Of Life and Death
The wind whistled through the cragged outcrop that overhung the rugged path as Eternal’s cloak fluttered about him in the swirling air. He cared not, the cloak did little to keep him warm, his magic did the job just as well. The path angled upwards, leading from the ruined port where a single pier remained, jutting into the crashing waves. The small Salinian ship bobbed in the bay, awaiting the oncoming storm. His captain’s gig was pulled far up on the gravel shore, anchored by a strong rope wrapped around a weathered column.
Eternal’s weary boots trod upon the loose stones of the path. The war he had fought in Aiolia had left his body battered. His left arm was bound in a splint and dried blood still stained his purple robe.
He could smell the moisture in the air and knew the mountain rain would soon empty from the gray heavens. The last few rays from the setting sun could barely be seen through the filtering of the clouds as Eternal reached the top of the path. Before him stood the towering entrance to the Ouranos Bibliokeep, the immense library of the lost city of Lipari. The once brightly painted stones had long since faded to gray, a shadow of the former glory that once inhabited these halls. Runes lined the archway, singing songs of protection and structure. Their voices had long since fallen silent, their magic drained away. The vast granite doors sealed the inside from the out, the elements finding no purchase to invade the chamber of knowledge. Eternal gathered his strength, this part was never easy.
Hands glowing with arcane power, Eternal faced the immobile entrance. He raised his hand, and as though he were pushing an object of tremendous weight, he began to shift the great doors.
Thunder rumbled overhead as finally, the heavens opened their sorrow and their tears began to fall. Their lament seemed oddly personal, the raindrops striking the figure of Eternal like pellets. He continued to shove against the weight of the doors.
The rain battered him as he struggled to move the doors bit by bit until a crack the width of a man was revealed. Eternal did not stop his magic, instead slowly stepping to the door. Sweat dribbled down his grimaced visage, mixing with the rain that continued to pelt his person. He slipped through the opening, releasing his force. The doors slammed shut with an almighty screech of stone against stone, leaving Eternal in complete darkness. The sounds of thunder could now be barely heard as the clouds continued to wail their grief.
Eternal’s hand lit up with a purple glow, the small flame resting just above his palm. The quick rise and fall of his chest could be seen in the dull glow as he recovered from his exertions. He had never had such trouble before, not since the first time he had found this place. It concerned him, but he put it off, considering it an after-effect of using so much of his power to end the war. What a waste of time and energy, but it had to be done. Without those peasants and the nobles who were supposed to control them, he wouldn’t have the resources to complete his plan. Once he began to replicate Adam they would be obsolete, dead weight. Eternal broke out of his reverie as his breathing returned to normal, taking in his gloomy surroundings.
He suddenly raised his hand high into the air, the violet flame sputtering in the quick motion. He commanded the fire, and it grew, illuminating more of the cavernous room, revealing lanterns in the ceiling and some books on the wall. Sparks leaped from Eternal’s flame, guiding themselves to sources of light, igniting the lanterns with the warm glow of yellow fire. Eternal brought his arm down, the royal light fading from his palm. The room was lit, revealing the volumes upon volumes of books, scrolls, and other manuscripts lining the shelves on the walls. The wood was remarkably untouched by time or rot, the seal of the granite doors working their magic far after their magic had faded. Eternal gazed upon the sight, satisfied in knowing the knowledge that was housed here was his alone.
It was then he spotted a shadow flickering in a doorway, approaching the entrance. He waited with a smile upon his lips as his creation, his son, Adam, emerged from the steps that led down to his laboratory. The large clay golem jumped for joy at his father’s unexpected return, his weight shaking the ground. Adam lumbered across the mosaic-like floor, greeting Eternal with a bow, as he had been taught. Eternal bowed in return, ensuring to keep a distance between them. Adam didn’t notice, gesturing and making excited rumblings of, “come, father!” Adam’s voice was deep, soils crumbling against each other to generate the sounds. A sigh escaped Eternal’s lips, his concern at what trouble Adam had gotten up to beginning to gnaw at the edges of his already frayed consciousness.
Lifting his fatigued legs, he trailed behind the excited child-like golem. He would see what Adam had done, then take an extended rest. It couldn’t be that bad, could it?
The shadows were long against the tapestried and book-laden walls of the corridor. The candles cast their flickering light, dancing between the cracks of the weathered stones as the pounding steps and soft padding of golem and human ventured ever deeper. Adam’s glances back at his creator did nothing to allay Eternal’s concerns.
Smooth walls became rough as the pair neared the Well, where Eternal conducted his experiments. The Vassilias’ suspicions intensified as they neared the center of his operations. Adam had messed with his equipment. He thought back to the rare occasions he had let Adam watch him work. Adam had been fascinated by his nimble figures as the clay was kneaded back and forth, forming smaller bits of the greater golem he was creating. On several recent occasions, he had allowed Adam to aid him with the process, speeding up his experiments. These golems often turned into houseworkers for the laboratory, dusting and caring for the odd duo. Eternal never let Adam see the golems go mad, or the experiments when he tried to replicate Adam. He feared that it would frighten the impressionable golem, and kept him far away on such occasions.
Now it seemed as though Adam had somehow broken Eternal’s seal on the doors of the laboratory. He could see the excitement evident in the golem’s expression as Adam cast glances back at him to see if, for some odd reason, his father had stopped following him.
It reminded Eternal of the days he would take Adam outside, letting the sunlight reach his golden eyes. Adam would run about, chasing the small birds and butterflies as they flitted about in the spring and summer. In the depths of winter, like his father the son would make his own “snow golems” by rolling up the soft powder. With his hide of clay, the cold couldn’t bite his flesh and Eternal would let him play until just before the sun went down. Sometimes, he would animate the snow golems as playmates for Adam, and Adam would get this sparkle in his eye that shone joy and happiness.
The glow in Adam’s eyes now reminded Eternal of those days. Had Adam created his own golem? That was impossible, only he had that power. He continued to shadow Adam through the twisting corridors with great trepidation.
They stopped before the door into Eternal’s laboratory, just as he had feared. Turning around Adam looked excitedly at his father.
“Wait here,” he rumbled. Eternal sighed, and gestured for Adam that he would and to hurry up and show him. Desperate to please, the golem rushed inside. The sound of clattering glass could be heard as Adam retrieved his surprise.
Adam stood in the doorway, hiding something in his hands. As he pulled them apart, a small figure was revealed to be sitting in them. It, like Adam, was made of clay. The small golem had a burgundy gourd for a head, in which sat two golden orbs.
“Radish,” he said, indicating the head which was clearly not a radish.
Eternal’s first reaction was one of shock. He… he had made a golem. It wasn’t just any golem either. Adam had created a sentient golem just like him. Something Eternal had been attempting to do for centuries, and years since his breakthrough with Adam. Something snapped in Eternal. This… creation of his had stolen his power, his purpose. Adam, in the five years he had been alive, had replicated Eternal’s lifelong work that he had begun lifetimes ago.
The Vassilias face had twisted into one of rage and Adam’s excitement had faded. He cupped his hands around the small golem, bringing it towards his chest in an act of protection.
“What is that?” hissed Eternal as he began to step towards the two. Adam began to whimper.
“You created this thing? In my absence? While I was away you went behind my back?” Adam had begun to retreat into the laboratory.
“You stole my purpose from me. You stole my ability to create life.” The violet flames began dripping from his hands and eyes, forming small pools on the floor as he advanced towards the golems. Adam backed over a wooden box, falling hard to the ground. The small golem was sent tumbling from his grip into a corner. It, like Adam, sensed the danger in the air, like ozone. Eternal marched towards his fallen creation, standing over it.
“Not only that, but you stole my magic! I was weak when I went to war, unable to regain it because you were stealing it from me!”
Adam whimpered as the flames created small pits in the clay of his body. Seeing this, Eternal fought for his temper. It smouldered to nothing, like the fire from his eyes.
“You can be taught. You were my firstborn. I will not kill you.” His gaze turned from Adam to the abomination in the corner.
“But this… this will not stand.”
Adam had stopped crying at those words. “Wha-at?” he croaked.
Eternal said nothing, instead he began to walk towards Adam’s creation, looking to get a better shot. The palm of his free hand began to flicker once more with fire.
“No… no no!” Adam lurched to his feet. Eternal raised his hand as Radish raised his head, staring at his death.
As Eternal released the violet lightning from his palm, Adam dove in front of his son. The lighting coursed through his left arm, occasionally striking out and burning across his chest. One unlucky bolt struck his left eye, leaving it scarred. The arm disintegrated into dust, leaving a cavity in Adam’s shoulder with cracks still flickering purple. Eternal stood stiff, in shock, before collapsing from the effort the spell had taken from him.
Radish rushed to his father, desperately hoping he was still alive. Scars and burns littered his body, glowing a dull purple. Adam groaned as he sat up, supporting himself with his free arm. His left eye had been sealed shut. Golems don’t feel pain, but the emptiness of his missing limb disturbed Adam. It was like a cold iron hand had gripped his chest and was crushing it, a feeling of something that could never be replaced.
Eternal began to rise on the other side of the room. He stood, taking in the abomination and the traitor.
“You are a mistake, a failure.” With the small amount of magic he had left, Eternal readied another blast.
“No.” The calm word sent shivers down Eternal’s spine. Adam glowed, the violet runes emblazoned on his chest and his yellow eyes growing brighter. The words inscribed on the parchment in his mouth burned a fierce gold, “Truth.” With a gasp, Eternal stumbled. The magic, once so ready and willing to respond to his command, was gone.
“You- you stole it!”
Adam stood, his wounds seeming not to bother him as they began to glow as well.
“You gave it to me.”
Adam’s remaining eye glimmered with an emotion Eternal has never seen.
“You tried to kill my son.” Adam began to advance towards Eternal. “You tried to kill me.”
The rumble of the golem’s words and steps gave Eternal an emotion he had rarely ever felt. Pure, unadulterated fear. Flashbacks to Byria, where he had faced a raging golem, filled his mind. There he had won with magic. Now…
Adam lunged for Eternal. The exhausted mage avoided his grasp, but only just. He ran for the corridor, his limbs like lead. Adam roared with rage behind him, the sound echoing up and down the hall. Eternal fled, with his son right behind him.
Eternal didn’t know how he did it, but he made it to the upper library. The gates stood before him, unyielding. The gates… Eternal was doomed. He could never open them without his magic. The pounding footsteps were just behind him now. As he turned, he began a plea, “Adam-”
Adam grasped his torso with his free arm. Ribs broken and sprained from Byria impaled Eternal’s lungs and organs, ensuring his death. But Adam didn’t stop. He threw Eternal’s body against the doors, shattering most of the bones in the broken form. Adam began to pound the corpse, spraying viscera across the room and grinding the bones to dust. At long last, he halted, his hand and body coated in red. Drained of all the rage at his father, he wept. He wept at the knowledge of life and death, he wept for the memories of his father, he wept for his failure.
Eventually, Radish made his way up to where Adam grieved. He comforted his father, and gradually, the two began to sing a lullaby designed by Eternal to send the golems he made to sleep. The two sang it now, exhausted, at last given the gift of rest. Adam would figure out how to move forward tomorrow.