The Price of Creation

The Price of Creation

By Jeffrey C. Sims

“I command you to stop talking!”

“Well, that hardly seems fair; you’re still talking.”

“Golems aren’t supposed to talk.”

“You must have gotten the recipe wrong.”

“They’re supposed to mutely obey your every instruction and stomp around looking intimidating!”

“Too much wyvern dust, you think?”

“How can I make this any clearer… you’re not supposed to be talking!” Shira practically screamed the last part. Antinous is coming to kill me, and all I have to protect me is a Golem that talks! 

She let herself slide to the floor. Above her, the observatory windows twinkled with soft warmth from the lights of the street below, the occasional burble of people’s voices echoed weakly through the thin walls.

From the table, the creature rumbled good-naturedly, “You know if it helps at all, I’ll pretend I can’t talk?” Shira felt like crying. No, she was crying. Raising a hand to her eyes, she felt the warm trickle of liquid sliding down her mud-stained cheeks. Where did this all go wrong?

“Should I take your silence as acquiescence or refusal?” The being of cave dust and clay had a surprisingly melodic voice, deep like lingering thunder. “As creator creation, we really need to establish some clear guidelines for this relationship.”

Shira moaned and rolled over on the floor. I did everything correctly, or at least I did in the initial steps, she thought to herself. There was a lot of guesswork by the end, but how could I have helped that? Most crafters contented themselves with smaller golems, trivial creatures that were good for helping around the house or playing with the kids. Larger golems were rarely seen, and the secrets of their creation closely guarded.

But none of that should have mattered; it had all felt right. Shira had created dozens of smaller golems, servitors, as they were commonly called, and she had done it without recipes or trade secrets. Her gift had just come naturally; they had always come naturally. Why then can this stupid beast talk?

Above her, the Golem rested, contentedly listening to the dwindling echoes of its own voice. Shouldn’t it try to escape at least? It talks after all. There shouldn’t be any limits to what it may try.

Seconds extended into minutes, and as neither party shifted, Shira finally decided moping wasn’t helping. Rolling, she fought her way back to her feet. She could not do much from the floor, and Antinous was still coming, worthless Golem or no. 

Racking her fingers through the thick curls of her raven-colored hair, Shira grimaced as they caught on the thick snarls of mud. In this state I won’t even have the option of seducing him. At least there had been the option before. More than once, he had tried to hint at it. His dullard’s lips working with the broad ridge of his veiny nose in a desperate ploy to usher her into bed.

Each time it had filled Shira with a mixture of disgust and rage, giving her the equal desire to vomit and drive something sharp into his chest. I suppose it is not too late to wash up. It is only a weeks’ worth of mud and sweat…

Shira glanced at her Golem, silent, its face oddly still as it peered about the lab.  But how would I explain this? Oh, hey Antinous, I am ready for you now! Yes, I know that I said I would rather have a thresher pull the meat from my bones with me still living than let you touch me, but I have changed my mind. What’s that you say? No, that sculpted creature, the color of the moonless sea is certainly not a guardian golem. Yes, it is definitely a homage to the late great Ezra Thull and his revolutionary craft. Please take your pants off now.

Laughing bitterly, Shira walked toward her desk. Polished to a dull glow by decades of constant use, several banks of tall windows were set before it. Beyond the oil-colored night flowed, broken only by the occasional puddle of wispy light, where the streetlamps held back the encroaching smog. How far is he now? The Guild’s letter was not specific other than that if they found I had been tampering with forbidden things, more than just my livelihood would be forfeit.

Across the room, the Golems voice rose. “I suppose since our conversation seems to be on pause, you wouldn’t mind if I took a look around?” This was followed by the abrupt sound of stone snapping through steel as the creature pulled through its bindings, as easily as a Torgen through paper.

Shira fought down a sudden swelling of panic. Intentionally reminding herself that the bindings were not there to restrain it, only to keep the form intact as she was sculpting. That it broke them means nothing. Any Golem could have done so… after being given the proper commands…

The beast swung to a seated position free of restraints and set its feet gently upon the floor, wiggling each of its toes in meditative sequence. Then, it stood. There was something sinister in its human mimicry and unknowable cunning that no Golem should possess.

Shira had made it that way deliberately. Most Guardian Golems were ponderous plated things that bore only the barest hint of their heritage. Many were worse, grotesque reflections of humanity. Twisted and malformed in the extreme, they were used for fear and for torture. Warped creations from equally warped minds. 

Shira had sought neither. Instead, she had drawn inspiration from the creations of Ezra Thrull, who had muddled the lines between art and artifice. She could remember her mother taking her to see one of his last public displays.

It had been the dedication ceremony for the city’s inaugural Hall of Commerce and Design, and she had sat on her mother’s shoulders smiling into the broad morning sun. Ezra had been a small wispy man, hardly visible across the small sea of onlookers. You never would have known that he made a speech that day, tiny as his voice was and as loud as our provincial musicians were playing. But you could feel the joy in his expressions and see the soft grace in his face.

When he had finally stopped speaking, and the curtain was thrown back, Shira could remember feeling stunned at the elegance of his design. She had seen Golems before, hundreds, big and small, but she had seen none like this. Sinuous was later the word she would have chosen to describe it, but at the time, all her young brain could come up with was, “look, momma, it’s a snake!”

But it was so much more. Each band of its body was individually cast, engraved, and then fused together. Creating a startling liquid motion as its multihued form flowed over the drab stonework, but even from a distance, Shira could see that the Golem did not simply crawl. It danced. And even when finally, it grew still, the rings which comprised its body shifted with each incremental change of the light.

Studying her own Golem as it crossed the room to the window, Shira could not help but admit that it held none of that same revolutionary grace. It has a subtle beauty, though. Lifelike to the point of being eerie, the only thing, aside from the homogeneous expanse of its shadow blue form, that set it apart from a real person was the deep pits of its glowing eyes. Twin pearls that shone with the light of dying stars, they turned upon Shira, inhuman and full of wondering.

Ashra’s ghost, what have I created? I had intended to do something no one had done before, but just how successful was I? Does this thing honestly think and feel? Or are its jibes just another monument to my failure, a talking Golem that insults rather than protects?

Stepping forward, Shira placed a hand upon its cool clay skin, feeling for the tiny play of the individual steel rods beneath, the quiet hum of the incantations carved into every segment. Eventually, Shira found her voice. 

“You’re more than a Golem, aren’t you?” The being turned its attention from the distant streets to look at her, face so akin to old Demetri, or at least how Shira would have imagined him as a younger man. Fierce eyebrows over an equally fierce beard with just the hint of a smile playing about its eyes.

“Well, that’s not a particularly good sign.”

“What’s not a good sign?”

“You not knowing what I am. It’s never a good sign when your own creator has trouble defining your existence.”

Shira felt her moment of infinity slip away. All the deep mysteries that had flowered before her like effervescence drops of moonlight withered to nothing in an instant. “You know what’s also not a great sign? Having a useless Golem that is supposed to keep its trap shut. Guess we’re both disappointed today.”

The creature laughed, low and loud, like stones tumbling from a cliff face. “I’m not disappointed, only confused. What is it that you were expecting from me?”   

“I was expecting you to do as I command, without talking!”

“That seems like a rather narrow application.”

“That is kind of the point. You are Golem. I am master. You are not supposed to fart without my say so.”

“I do not think I can fart even with your say so.”

Shira threw up her hands and turned toward her desk, repeatedly pulling out drawers and looking through cubbies. Antonius is coming to kill me, and I am discussing flatulence with a Golem! There have to a hundred more valuable things I could be doing! Buried beneath a small stack of papers in the top drawer was a letter opener. Shira grabbed it and stuffed it into a pouch at her waist.

Maybe I could kill Antonius. Surely a heretic like Demetri would have kept something around here for defense. A sword, perhaps, a crossbow would be even better. Yet, even as she thought it, Shira knew it was pointless to look. The letter opener was likely the best she would do.

She had been through every inch of the space countless times, and even if there was a secret trove she had not discovered, it would have been filled with books not, weapons. Comprised of written secrets on the ancient Gods, origins of the universe, or perhaps a treatise on the psychological benefits of labor.

Shira kept looking. Her mother had never given up, and neither would she. What did it matter that a weapon would do her little good against the Guild’s Golem or that she hadn’t the faintest idea how to use it. I will be damned if I just curl up and die. Moving from the desk, she did a quick circuit of the room. The desk was against the windows on the Northside, the bed dresser and small chest were against the east wall. The west was dominated by more cupboards, the south was more cupboards and the door.

Twelve steps and Shira had crossed to one end, twelve more, and she arrived at the other. How many times had she paced out her tiny box? Tracking paths in the blue dust, small circuits around the central table her gaze turned up to the maze of radiant tubes lining the ceiling. What about running? If I left now, I could maybe make it to the edge of the city before Antonius even knew I had fled.

Shira moved toward the east wall. From there, I could take my lack of formal training and my complete lack of resources and flee the country! I hear Horath has even fewer rights for women, just the kind of place in desperate need of a separatist female artificer. Who even needs some worthless Guardian Golem? Shira slumped down in the corner next to her bed, head in hands. Maybe I should have just listened to my father.

She could still recall his words. Hovering close to death, with his small world crumbling down around him, he drew his only child to his bedside for a final time, “You’re no rare beauty Shira, but you’re a pretty enough girl. A good man will want you if you give up this Golem business.”

“Who is it that said that to you?”

Shira looked up; she had not realized that she had spoken out loud. Across the room, the Golem studied her, its shadow-colored body softened by midnight hovering in the windows beyond.

Sitting up a little, Shira looked at her creation incredulously. Do you really care? “My father said that to me, right before he died.”

“It is probably safe for me to assume then that this was not the product that he intended.”

Shira’s laughter was rueful and without depth. “Seeing as you’re no husband, and a Guild representative is coming to kill me for my crimes, I would say that that is a safe assumption.”

“What is this crime that deserves so final a solution?”

“I made you.” Seconds of silence stretched by as Shira waited for the jibe that never landed. The Golem stood quiet, its smoldering eyes intent upon her. Shira sighed. I might as well tell someone, even if it is my own failed creation. Ashra knows it has been a while since I had a real conversation. Rising from the corner, Shira sat upon the bed, “Do you want the long version or the short version?”

The Golem smiled as it pulled the chair from beneath the desk. “The long version, please. I believe I have already heard the short.”

“And what about after I finish my little story? What will you do? I already know that you won’t follow my commands. What will you do when they come to kill me?”

The Golem took a seat, the chair groaning under its considerable bulk. “I will do what I think is best. Hopefully, your upcoming tale shall help inform me of exactly what that is.”

Shira felt the panic simmering in the pit of her stomach hit a full boil. A little part of her had hoped when Antonius arrived, her creation would spring into action. That while it was unorthodox, it would still fulfill its function. Now it calmly sat, saying that her life was by no means guaranteed. I guess this is it. This is what determines whether I live or die. Shira took a deep breath.

“I am not a Guild member. No woman is. The crafting, creation, and augmentation of servitor races is expressly forbidden to the womanly order. That is how the imperial decree reads. For years though, the provinces have allowed women to repair Golems, given that the rules do not expressly forbid it. That is how I got my start; I always had a knack for repairing them. Growing up poor, there weren’t a lot of ways for me to help my family other than working in the mines, and after my mother died, my father wasn’t about to risk me doing that.”

“So, when he discovered my gift, he sent me to Demetri to help him in the shop. Demetri had been a friend of my mother and was an ancillary Guild member. Meaning, he was commissioned to do only the most modest of work upon Golems, which he was by his own admission never any good at. I, by comparison, excelled – to his unending delight. How Golems worked and how to make them run again just made sense to me. It became Demetri’s favorite project to see just how far I could take my skills.”

“See, he had always hated the Guild for the way it propagated imperial edict. Edict which prevented him from thinking how he wanted, living how he wanted – loving who he wanted. So, it was his great joy to see just how well I could do even without training, even without the Guild’s facilities and equipment. That a woman could be so much more skilled than any man he had known was, I think for him, the ultimate testament to their lies. I – meanwhile was simply happy to be doing something I was good at and to be able to help my family.”

“It couldn’t last, of course. Everyone knew that I was helping Demetri and that his skills would not have improved so drastically after decades of mediocrity. The Guild sent a representative to investigate, Demetri’s status was revoked, and my father told me to return home. That is when things began to change. Before, it had always been this kind of game, a fun test of skills while Demetri felt like he was eking justice out of the world.”

“That feeling of injustice he lived with day-to-day didn’t exist for me until I was told to stop. Then suddenly, it was all too real. Suddenly I was rejected and chastised, not because I had violated some deep law, or there was a flaw in my work, but rather because I was not lucky enough to be born with the right parts. Because some men could not live with the thought that I might achieve more than they would, or that suddenly their superiority was not so secure.”

“Despite the setback, Demetri and I decided to keep on working. Nothing large, just the odd repair job here and there, nothing strictly illegal, just enough to keep us floating. That is when I started making plans to build a Guardian Golem. I could not tell you what my logic was exactly. A part of me thought that maybe if I succeeded, the Guild might make an exception for me or that maybe the provincial government might get involved. I wasn’t sure entirely why, only that I had to try.” 

“A few years went past as I planned, and eventually Demetri passed, and my father not long after that. Following their deaths, all I had left was this lab and a few repair contracts. Not enough to fund your creation. So, I started making servitors again. One here, two there, but as my costs kept going up, so did my need to make more of them. It was not long after that I got my first letter. The Guild doesn’t have as much direct authority here in the provinces as it does in the core, but they informed me that if I did not cease dabbling in the forbidden arcane, they would intercede.”

“Antonius showed up a week later, mainly to check that Demetri was really dead, I think. That a woman could be doing what I was doing on her own was beyond their comprehension. It is probably what allowed me to get this far. They spent so long looking for my male benefactor they let me get months into creation. But accomplice or no, they finally are putting an end to my work.”

“The last letter arrived just the other day, a formality, I am sure, just to appease the provincial government. It said their inspector had determined that Imperial Decree had been broken and that I would need to present myself on this day at this place to prove my innocence.”

“Now I am waiting, unable to leave, in part because I have nowhere to go, in part because I am sure that I will not get far. So, my last hope had been you. If I could finish my guardian Golem, I might at least make it through the night, or even better, find a way through life… I guess you know the rest of it.”

Shira finished speaking, and the Golem finally stirred. Rising from its seat it walked in silence to the laboratory table. Speaking, only after it had spent several painful moments staring at the broken restraints. “Yes, I guess I do know the rest.”

Shaking ever so slightly, Shira crept forward toward the edge of the bed, hesitantly asking, “So what do you think?”

“That was the long version.”

A spark bloomed in Shira’s mind. Thundering brute! This is not the time for your double talk! Taking a moment, she deliberately quelled her irritation before speaking. “Yes, but if you recall, you asked for it.”

The Golem looked up at Shira, the warm fire of its eyes glowing intently. “And I am glad that I did. Now I know why it is that I won’t help you.”

Shira snapped. All the hours of painful uncertainty, the hunting desperation as she toiled without clue or code, the final utter desolation of failure, formed within her as a sudden wave of fury. She could not exactly recall how the pitcher found its way into her hand, nor how she managed to cross the distance between the bed and the table so quickly. But the next thing Shira knew, a wave of glass shards exploded through the air as she hurled the jug full in the Golems face. An act followed in quick succession by a flurry of her best shots, thrown to the body and face of her creation.

It never blinked, her attack broke upon it like the wind upon a mountainside, and within moments, Shira was retreating nursing her bruising knuckles. “You heartless bastard! I have done nothing wrong; the stupidity and the machinations of an unjust system have ordained that I am something less simply because of my sex! I am punished rather than praised. I am censored when I should be celebrated!”

The Golem obliquely brushed glass from its shoulder, “Perhaps. Perhaps not. Either way, you were warned, and you persisted. I reserve my sympathy for beings that are victims of their circumstances, not creators of them.”

“I have created many things in my life, but the only one that has been a mistake has been you!”

Laughter rumbled forth from the Golem, slow-rolling and dry, like the wind before a summer storm. “Surely you do not think I am so naïve? Yes, my consciousness began only an hour ago, but even I can see that your motives were purely selfish.”

Shira bristled, “Yes, I did it for myself, but I also did it for others, for the people that believe as I do, as Demetri did.”

The Golem tapped a bemused finger against its chin, “In what regard was my creation for them?”

Shira walked back toward the bed kicking at the shattered glass as she did, “In what regard… In what regard!” She spun upon the Golem, her hazel eyes flashing like honeyed fire. “In every regard, you stupid creature. It was in defiance of their injustice, in celebration of a woman’s ambition! It was an act that, in any fair world, would have brought me fame and fortune. It was an act that should have given others hope. But who are you to question me? Who are you to arbitrate moral action? You say that I have acted selfishly, yet there you sit quietly, judging while you have been in this world for less than an hour. Completely removed from its problems, completely shielded from its pain, let us see how high and mighty you sound when you have lived in it a while!”

Her creation nodded diplomatically, but there was a firmness to its voice. “You are correct. I am no moral authority – merely an observer, but what I have observed is that you sought to awe everyone with your genius and skill, not to advance any cause. Why else would you have done this alone? Why else are you not surrounded by your fellows, your sisters in battle, those that think and feel as you do?

“Perhaps it is because no others would stand with me!”

The Golem raised a clay brow, “Is that true?”

Shira felt the sharp taste of her rage diminishing before the weight of its logic. “No,” but I wish that it were. Damn it, though, if I will concede even an inch to this creature! “Whether or not I sought help shouldn’t have mattered; it is their laws that are at fault, not my actions!”

At its place beside the table, the Golem’s eyes shone with blistering light, “When you said the last of the words and bound me to this place, you did not cry for joy when my voice first filled the room. Here you had done something, that as you seem to believe, no artificer has done before. You had created a thinking feeling Golem. But all you heard was failure. All you could think of was your lack of total and complete control. This was not the soulless automaton that you had hoped for. This was not the power you had imagined. How then are you any different from those that seek to control you? How is it that you have failed to notice the most glaring of comparisons; that just like the Guild, you would rather destroy something than have it fall outside your control.”

It was Shira’s turn to laugh, high and keen, like the sharp throated trill of a hawk. “Tell me, creature, do you know the definition of hypocrisy? If you don’t just cogitate upon your own words. You’ll find its meaning.”

The Golem shrugged. “You suggest that I have made my decision because I am angry that you despaired at my creation. I assure you that’s not the case.”

“Sure, sounds like the case to me.”

Silence flooded to moments as Shira’s words faded. Across from her, the Golem turned and mutely walked toward the window, carefully threading its way through the maze of broken shards. By the bed, Shira fumed. So, this is my reward for months of work. To be questioned, to be ridiculed, to be accused of pernicious self-indulgence, and in the end, to still die. She took several deep breaths, trying to quell the storm that rolled within her. No, I am not dead yet. There is a way out of this. I just need to think… maybe Antonius can be bartered with. I cannot be so unappealing right now that I don’t spark his interest. And there is always the possibility that I could convince him Demetri is still alive. If I could blame… 

A voice like hard falling rain cut through her thoughts. “I have no wish to see you die.”

Turning her attention back to her creation Shira scoffed, “What are you going to do, look away?”

The Golem turned to look at her, a small smile curling the edge of its lips. “That’s the easiest option. But I figured I would need to plug my ears and cover my nose too; death is multisensory after all.”

Shira rolled her eyes. Right back to the jokes. “Well, if you don’t want to see me killed, then I’m afraid you’re going to have to relocate because this room is specially booked for the event.”

“Are you so certain they mean to kill you?”

Rubbing a hand across her eyes Shira took her time in answering, “In the core, when they discover that someone has sold Guild secrets, they strip them naked and leave them in the sewers staked to the ground. I have heard they never make it more than a few hours before the threshers find them.”

“Is this the fate that you imagine for yourself?”

“No, but I speculate that in their eyes, the creation of you outside of Guild law, and by a woman no less, will not be looked on much more favorably. Likely Antonius has been instructed to make the problem that is me quietly disappear.”

“You do not deserve to die for this crime. A fine perhaps, prison time maybe, certainly to have your creation destroyed, but your life should not be forfeit.”  

Shira looked upon in surprise. “You mean you would allow yourself to be destroyed?”

In the short time she had known it, Shira had never seen the creature look unsure. Pale light crossed the threshold of its eyes, and just for an instant she thought she saw something other than a faint smile play upon its lips. “I would like to say that if that were what was decided, I would, but I am not sure I could go through with it.

“You know whether or not you are destroyed is not something they’re likely to discuss with you.”

“I am disinclined toward violence.”

Shira grinned sardonically. “They might not give you much of an option there.”

“Well, then I guess we’ll see what happens … Tell me, though, where was your mother in your tale? Surely she had a part to play?”

Shira shook her head; some subjects are too sacred to be touched by you. “No, no, no, if these are to be my last living moments, I want them to be on my terms. I get to ask the questions now.”

The Golem smiled at her, “Fair enough, what is it you want to know?”

Shira thought for a moment. A part of her wanted to end the conversation, a part of her wanted to throw something else at the Golem, but a more profound impulse, the one that had brought her blindly to the threshold of creation, asked, “How is it you know so much? I designed you to resemble a person, but what you do…what you are…is far from a facsimile. Do you have any honest idea why you are this way?”    

The thing was silent for a long time as it stared down at the laboratory table. Clumps of dried mud clung to broken restraints, and Shira’s messy notes lay scattered about the floor. Eventually, the Golem bent to retrieve one, smoothing crumpled edges with its oversized hands. It started to speak. “I am not sure that it is something I know, but perhaps it could be something I feel. My first memory is the last of your bonding words, they were spoken as if from a great distance, and then a moment later, I could see yo….”

There was a sharp snap, and the door blew open. The rest of the words were lost as the oaken portal smashed through the room and out the window. Immediately Shira dove for cover, quickly scrambling behind the bed as splinters of wood filled the air. The Golem did not stir. Debris broke across the small shield of its raised hand, and once the commotion had died, it calmly turned to face where the door once was. 

Through the newly rent hole, a beast filed forth. First, its beak’s long sickle-shaped curve appeared, followed by the empty gasping pits where its eyes should have been. The rest of its body contorting and twisting as it drug its raw gangly frame through the shattered portal. Finally, it managed to gain full entrance; it stood just below the ceiling, red pulsing form eating at the room’s flickering light. 

Digging into her pouch, Shira came up with the letter opener and tried to work moisture back into her throat. Shooting a quick glance at her immobile Golem, she could not help but wonder; how did we not hear that thing coming up the stairs? It must be almost nine feet tall! Looking back to where the creature hung above her, she saw Antonius duck beneath its legs, a smug look upon his veined face, and a feral glint clinging to his lips. Another man followed close behind him, heavy-shouldered and scarred. He had a face long used to violence.

It looked for an instant like one of them might speak, but it was the Golem that spoke first. “I must say that was a grand entrance, a touch on the destructive side, but impressive nonetheless.”

Shira took a distinct satisfaction at the stunned uncertainty that crawled across Antonius’s face as the man at his side stupidly gasped, “It talks!”

“Yes, it most certainly does, and it is wondering which one of you is Antonius?” Confusion reigned for the Guild man, and as Shira watched, she thought, this is my moment! He won’t hesitate long, but while his attention is wholly upon the Golem and he has yet to give his own instruction, I have a chance!

Rising from behind the bed, she reared up and threw the letter opener in one clean motion. No part of her expected it to hit, it was an act of desperation, but as she sprinted behind her toss, she saw the thin span of its blade sink into Antonius’s leg. His anguished howl bursting forth right before Shira smashed into him.

Dropping low, she drove her shoulder into his ribs while simultaneously trying to keep her momentum barreling toward the door. The result was a satisfying whelp from Antonius as he hit the floor, and Shira went tumbling into the hall. She came up hard against the far wall and scrambled back to her feet. From within the room, Antonius’s voice rose. “Idiot! You grab the girl, Xephamond, destroy that thing!”

A rending howl split the night as the apartment exploded into chaos. Shira was already flying down the stairs. Breath falling hard and fast around her as she sprinted toward the street below. Demetri’s shop, or rather her shop, was on the fourth floor of the municipal buildings that bordered 6th street. I only need to make it 8 blocks, and I am to the river; it shouldn’t be hard to lose them from there. After I can… I will worry about after later.

As Shira hit the last landing she heard the big man’s steps, heavy and hard on the stairs above her. Cursing to herself, she burst through the door and into the blinding fog. Spongy night broke across her as she fled into the ethereal mist, her feet falling hard on the gravel road, and immediately she knew her mistake. Fool woman, you should have slowed down as soon as you got outside! Now she could hear his boots behind her, the deep raw draws of the big man’s breath.

Careening from one side of the street to another, Shira tried to lose him in the gloom, but steadily he gained. Shira’s lungs burned, and her legs ached. She could feel herself losing momentum. It had been months since she had not spent nearly every waking moment working on her Golem, months since she had done anything, but design, plan, and build. But even when she had the time, she had rarely run for exercise or pleasure. Mother, you were always the strong one. Please, lend me that strength now! 

The man struck as Shira hurled herself beneath the warm glow of a streetlamp. Sharp and sudden, the blow lifted her from her feet and sent her crashing into the gravel, pain so intense it burned behind her eyes and radiated from her shoulder, and for a blurry instant, the world grew small. But digging her palms into the gravel, Shira pushed herself back to her feet. This is not how I die! Rising, she turned in time to catch the man by surprise.

Lashing out with the heel of her hand, she battered his face away as her foot sought out the softness of his groin, but groggy as she was, she missed. Striking wide and against his thigh. Panting hard, the man fought back her hands and slipped his knife low and into Shira’s stomach. Pain blossomed anew as the tip pulled back painted red before plunging forward a second time, followed by a third. 

Ashra’s all-seeing grace, no! Shira folded back to the ground. Not now, not like this… Above her, the man said something decidedly menacing, maybe that she still looked enticing even covered in her own blood, but Shira wasn’t sure, she had turned away.

With one fluttering hand, she tried to hold back the tide, while with the other, she tried to crawl into the darkness. Then there was a sound, like boulders skipping across a frozen lake. It was immediately followed by a scream and the dull thud of a body collapsing to the ground. Behind her, the Golem’s voice reached out through the pain. “I said I was disinclined toward violence, not that I was incapable of it.” 

Shira couldn’t remember when she had started crying. All she knew was that her vision was suddenly choked by tears. “True, but you never said anything about protecting me.”

There was the sound of tearing cloth then Shira felt cold earthen hands roll her onto her back as a strong, gentle pressure was placed against her wounds. “You must have forgotten when I informed you that I had no wish to see you die.”

Shira smiled faintly as the ground swum beneath her, “Next time, you’ll have to make your language a bit clearer.”

“Of course, master.”

Dark seconds folded over her, and she rose into the air cradled upon stone arms. The Golem bore her into the silence of night. After a while, her eyes flickered open, and she spoke to the haze. “Am I going to die?”  

Words like singing stones echoed back to her, “Possibly, but there are worse things than death. You might find yourself trapped in this world again, ripped from the heavens starry hem.”

“Is that what I did to you?”

“No, you just added too much wyvern dust.’ 


About the Author:

Jeffrey C. Sims is an aspiring Dragon, settling for being a speculative fiction writer and poet. When not voraciously reading or writing, he can be found wandering the desert landscapes of this home in New Mexico. Jeffrey works as a first-line reader at DreamForge Anvil. You can find more of his work on Instagram gottahavepoetryinthename or on Twitter at @JeffreyCSims

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