Escaping steam whistles, and the sound of breaking foliage echoes across the valley. John looks over his shoulder as the brass automaton crashes through the tree line. Light reflected from the monster’s remaining eye blinds him. He raises his hand to block the light, and stares down at it. Smiling, he turns to Reese who doesn’t join him in his exuberance. John’s eyes scan her body. Like his, she is covered with bruises, cuts and scrapes. Some are deep, and the tinge of scarlet on her tattered shirt tells him how close to death they’ve come since learning the secrets she had kept from him for so many years.
“You know what to do,” Reese whispers.
John nods stoically as the behemoth launches into the air. The arc is known; they’ve battled it enough to know its limitations. Brass against stone, the noise is deafening. The duo watch as the automaton gathers steam pressure for another jump.
Reese allows a smirk as she counts out the number of jumps. “One.”
John turns and starts to look further up the mountain.
“Don’t look at it. The Queen’s assassin can still see you with it’s good eye.”
John spins around, and although from this height he can’t make out the face, he can see in his mind’s eye the mount where the mirrored fragment was attached. Reese seemed to know exactly where to set up their trap, and when the chopped log struck the monstrosity in the head, he thought his ordeal was through.
Another high pitched release and another crash into the rocky terrain. “Two,” Reese whispers, the brass automation getting closer.
John can feel emotion radiate from Reese. Our trap will work, he thinks, but he’s perceiving an almost depressed feeling from Reese. He stares at her, but she turns away. Something’s not right.
Reese meets his gaze long enough to count out the next leap. “Three,” she says.
The steam-powered whine reaches a crescendo, and Reese yells out. “Now!”
John skitters behind a boulder, and Reese kicks away a wooden stump.
“Push, damn you!” The shout from his protector spurns action, and John plants his feet against the earthen wall pushing against the boulder with everything he’s got.
Impact from the brass man causes the ground to shudder, and the boulder is loosed from its stone slumber. The hiss-click is heard over the rumbling of the boulder as the Evil Queen’s construct attempts to leap from the path of the boulder, but there isn’t enough time for it to build enough pressure. Tendrils of compressed gas leak from its shattered arm.
The boulder strikes the mechanical man in a glancing blow, but it’s enough to throw the beast back. Once, twice, thrice the automaton tumbles end over end until it lands up-side-down in a sturdy tree against a cliff face. When the boulder impacts the cliff with the automaton’s head pinned between, a cacophony of sound erupts. Steam, brass, and rock fragments rain down on the mountainside, showering John and Reese in debris.
* * *
“Ceridwen, my queen.”
Ceridwen ignores the man kneeling before her brass throne. Instead, she keeps her eyes affixed to the mirrored fragment as the events on the mountainside unfold. She flinches as the boulder crushes the head of the clockwork man she had painstakingly constructed by her loyal Tenyks.
She watches the eye of the automaton sail in a steep arc, propelled by a column of steam. From her bird’s eye view, she sees a stone fragment strike Reese White in the chest before the glass eye tumbles out of view.
* * *
John leaps over debris, and ducks under falling ejecta. His eyes focus on the singular goal of reaching his fallen friend. He skids to a stop on his knees and picks up Reese’s broken body.
“Reese!” he yells again, his vision blurry with tears. “Don’t you die on me!”
Reese lies in his arms, her chest shuddering, trying to take in air. She forces a smile between ragged breaths. “Tell mother I love her,” she rasps as her entire body shudders with the effort of speech.
John squeezes Reese’s lifeless body to his own chest, unashamed of the tears.
* * *
Sarah wipes her eyes with the back of her hand and looks to the defunct brass automation standing silently on the pedestal.
“What a sad story,” she whispers.
“It gets worse,” Jarvis replies, as he hands her a goblet to drink.
“How?” she asks, drinking the wine to steady her shaking fingers.
Jarvis picks up his staff in reply, and wedges it in a deep crease where the shoulder blades would be if the abomination were made of flesh and bone. He turns to Sarah. “Open the chest, and bring me the sack inside.”
Sarah complies, and lifts the burlap sack from the wooden chest. Metal clanking from within causes her heart to race. Jarvis leans against the staff, balancing his weight on the end. Sarah stares wide eyed as the staff slowly lowers and an audible click echoes off the stone ceiling.
Sarah backs away as the dented chest plate splits and opens revealing a hollow. Telltale remnants of steam escape as the arms and legs open revealing that they too are hollow.
Jarvis walks around the front of the machine and Sarah follows.
“Ceridwen couldn’t make this thing think.”
“She is the queen of dark magick.”
“’Is’?” Sarah responds, her speech slurring.
Jarvis nods, picks up the sack and empties its contents on the stone floor. Brass shards tumble and scatter. Sarah mutters, her lips failing to create the words. Jarvis lifts the young girl and places her into the brass automaton. The openings close on the artist, her neck, head and left arm protruding from the metal sarcophagus.
He wraps the burlap bag around a jagged brass piece, and slices Sarah’s cheek. Blood dribbles, and as it coats the mangled brass, the pieces strewn on the floor begin to rattle. Chasing each other around the pedestal, the brass fragments rise until an unseen force places each twisted metal piece over Sarah’s exposed flesh.
Jarvis looks away and covers his ears to the shrieks of anguish from inside the metal cocoon.