For an beast cast from ten thousand pounds of cold iron, the golem was remarkably spry. It loped across the runway on all fours, like a giant metal gorilla of doom. With every step it took, concrete shattered and the earth itself groaned. And it gained several feet on me. I flew down the empty runway, less running towards anything as trying desperately to avoid being beaten to death. In hindsight, jumping out of the window probably wasn’t the best idea I ever had. Every bone in my body ached, I had a pounding headache, and it felt like my chest felt painfully tight every time I took a deep breath. I kept running anyway, there really wasn’t much of an alternative.
The runway extended as far as I could see forward, it had to be at least a mile. There was nowhere for me to run there, I’d be caught and pulped. The airport wasn’t much better, there were a few service entrances, but they all looked like they had locks, which would stop me, but not my pursuer. I looked back ahead, and that’s when I saw him.
I’ve seen some shit in my time, but this, this near took the cake for sheer incongruity. A man in gray rags stood before me in the middle of the runway. He was pale, he didn’t exactly look like a corpse, but it wasn’t a healthy complexion. His long black hair covered most of his face and draped down his back. His eyes were dark, I couldn’t really tell much more than that with his hair covering them. The rest of his features looked eastern European, caught somewhere between handsome but scary and young Slavic mob enforcer. Except much more… dignified. He was wearing rags, but he still had a presence that dwarfed that of any businessman or teacher I had ever seen. The naked sword in his hand probably helped with that. He seemed entirely unconcerned by fact that a teenager and a giant iron gorilla were rushing towards him.
He didn’t look like he was going to step out of the way, so I shifted my path a little to the left, aiming to pass him. I wasn’t looking backwards at the moment he moved, but I turned as soon as I heard the crash. I stumbled to a stop and looked behind me. The ragged Slav had stepped between me and the golem. And the golem had ground to a stop, barely, leaving a skid mark that looked like someone had taken a giant ice-cream scooper to the concrete. The Slav held his sword out in front of him, at head height for a normal person, chest height on the golem. The edge was about two feet from the golem’s chest. Both of them held unnaturally still, waiting for the other to do something.
The Slav in rags spoke first.
“Give me the relic.” He said, in a voice that was soft, almost quiet, and a little raspy. It wasn’t unpleasant to listen to. And it raised hairs all over my body.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Names have power.” He replied. Well, that wasn’t ominous at all.
“My mother always told me not to make deals with strangers” I said. That’s a lie of course, I’m an orphan. But it seems like something a caring mom would tell her children if she were actually aware of the sort of scary things that lurked out there looking for children to make creepy bargains with.
“Dear, you do realize that my presence is the only reason you aren’t a smear on the tarmac don’t you? You are not in a position to make demands. Give me the relic, and I will prevent the construct from harming you.” He offered.
Honestly, in my situation, that was a pretty nice offer. I tried to catch my breath, tried to think through all the implications of what he was offering. My oxygen starved brain wasn’t working quite as well as it normally did. The golem wasn’t pushing the issue, but that might not be a good thing. Also, he didn’t say anything about not harming me. He refused to tell me his name, so he might be unable to lie. Or he might just be screwing with me.
“Are you human?” I asked, trying to buy time.
“What are you?”
He didn’t answer. More support for the no-lying theory.
“No classification, no deal” I continued.
“IT IS A DEMON” The golem grated out, in a quieter voice, insomuch as that was possible for something that only had two volume settings: bellow and roar.
The Slav made no motion to deny that statement.
Oh dear. There goes the neighborhood. Demons have gotten some pretty good press recently. Television shows like Buffy and Supernatural have painted them as laughably incompetent minions, used them as metaphors for teenage angst, and hell, even used them as love interests. Even the Catholic Church has eased up on reminding the world every few years that demons are evil. As a result, people, even otherwise competent practitioners, have made horrible mistakes after forgetting one very simple truth. Demons are evil. Evil. EVIL. EEEEEEVIL.
To deal with a demon is to deal with something wrong on an incomprehensibly fundamental level. You don’t give a demon your full name. You don’t have it part of your name. You don’t give it an alias. You don’t give it the time of day. You don’t look in it’s eyes. Actually, you don’t look at it period. If you’re in a situation where it’s possible for you to look at it, you’ve fucked up pretty badly. These truths are drilled into the heads of every practitioner with an even moderately responsible teacher. Hell, the magical community explains this to janitors for Christ’s sake. Even biggest screwups in the magical world will, if asked, tell you that they would never ever ever interact with a demon if it was at all possible to avoid doing so.
However, it’s easy to say demons are evil. Its a lot harder to refuse to fulfill a relatively innocuous request from one when the alternative is getting beaten to death. By someone you recently subjected to the experience of being burned alive.
“Give me the relic or I will step aside.” The slavic looking demon said.
I hesitated, trying to weigh everything I knew about demons, about how to safely bargain with them, against being beat to death by a giant metal gorilla. I hesitated too long. The demon stepped aside.
The golem wasted no time in closing the distance. It swung one pillar of an arm at me, I lunged to the side. It caught me across my trailing leg, thankfully there wasn’t anything for the golem to push against since I was in the air. Unfortunately, the sheer force of it still sent me spinning end over end. I practically bounced along the concrete, dazed. Then the pain hit me. I opened my eyes just barely in time to see the golem above me, it’s bulk blocking out the sun, take a second swing. I couldn’t move in time, all I could do was curl into the fetal position. It didn’t help much. Again and again it slammed my side, knocking me across the runway. At the third hit I started to wish for a plane to land on me. At the fifth, I something in my chest cracked, and I stopped screaming. At some point after that, I lost count.
I felt wet. And cold. I didn’t try to move between blows anymore. Everything hurt, and everything was quiet, but the noise still hurt my head. I could feel something in my throat, and every time my head hit the ground a little more skin scraped off, a little more blood leaked out. The ground felt warm, I felt like I was melting into it. Then I was rolling again, wanting to vomit, but nothing would come up because my stomach hurt too much. Then it would stop, I would bleed, and the rest of me would hurt again.
“Enough” Raggy-slav was standing over me. “My offer remains, give me the relic, and I will ensure the golem cannot harm you”
The golem glared at him, but kept it’s distance. I wanted nothing more than to just give the fucking thing to the demon. It wasn’t the rules that stopped me, I didn’t give two shits about those. I didn’t care much more about the whole ‘dealing with demons contributes to destroying the world’ thing either. I just live here. It was the sinking feeling, no, the certainty, that he would kill me once I did. He wouldn’t be asking if he could simply take it.
I didn’t learn much from my master. He was… not an ideal role model. But there was one lesson that even now, I still remembered. It didn’t involve any of the normal horrors that were customary parts of his curriculum. He just looked at me, and, as if imparting an interesting tidbit, told me: “By the way, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you are about to fall into the clutches of a demon, you should kill yourself. It will save you some pain and the rest of us some trouble.” It was all I could think about. The words echoed around in my head, falling in and out of order.
Demon yourself clutches…
Fall into the way by….
Find situation way…..
Wait, what was I doing again?
“If I give you the relic, will you let me go?” I asked the golem. He chuckled. It sounded like someone was trying to play a pair of steel drums filled with rocks. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t remember how. I just wanted it to stop. Wanted to sleep.
“Hey demon, the shard is yours if you make sure I survive today without permanent injury or disfigurement.” It was the best I could think of. Then I threw the damn shard away. It was a pitiful throw. Maybe fifteen feet. After I let go, my arm locked up, and it hurt. I felt like someone had poured molten iron along my bones. I pulled the arm to my chest, cradling it, trying desperately not to move it. That only made the rest of my chest hurt. Every time I tensed up in response to the pain, I just hurt something else.
The golem and the demon both went for the shard, finally leaving me to bleed in peace. I relaxed into my puddle of blood and watched them. I didn’t have much of a choice there, I was laying facing them, and I couldn’t remember how eyelids worked. They moved with surreal speed, the golem moving it’s massive, ungainly limbs with a swiftness and coordination they had previously lacked. The moment the shard had left my hand, it had stopped mid-swing, pivoted, and launched itself after the shard with enough acceleration to shame a corvette. I hadn’t even seen the demon move. One moment, he was standing over me and I was trying not to look up his kilt of rags, the next he was gone, past the golem, leaning to snatch up the shard before it had stopped rolling.
The golem was a bit pissed about that. Well, maybe more incensed or infuriated than pissed. It was launching blow after blow, swinging like a madman at the pale Slav. He roared, and I could hear it resonating in my bones, loud enough to hurt my whole body. Every strike was so fast it was barely visible, tearing gouges in the concrete when they landed. The earth all around him, even yards away I could see the vibrations in my puddle of blood. Dust flew everywhere, and every few seconds a block of concrete bigger than my head went flying towards the demon as if launched from a catapult. The demon-slav didn’t even get his rags dusty. Or, dustier than they already were. He leaned back half an inch, letting a slab of concrete rush by his head, then slid back, letting the pillar of iron pass harmlessly in front of him, barely rustling his robey-thing. He was toying with a golem that probably weighed more than most elephants. The demon held the relic in one hand, his dark grey longsword in the other. He hadn’t bothered to try to strike or parry, he just dodged, slowly retreating. In the space it took me to realize he was leading the raging golem away from me, keeping his promise, he dodged nearly a dozen blows. Or maybe twice that.
I couldn’t follow the series of strikes and dodges, but I felt the moment the demon decided he was far enough away to start attacking. His power oozed out of him, spotlights exploded in clouds of yellow sparks, conveyor belts ground to a halt, and the facade of the terminal exploded outwards, every panel of glass shattering at once. It was more than that though, the atmosphere at the runway changed the moment he attacked, the sky subtly darker, the air heavier, the ground wetter. It felt like my skin was covered with a thin sheen of grease. Breathing became more difficult, as though the very air I was trying to pull into my damaged lungs had thinned, but grown heavier at once. It was a thousand changes at once, and none at all. You might not have noticed it if you didn’t realize they happened the moment the glass shattered. The sheer wrongness of the power seeping from him took what I had left of my breath away.
His blade whipped back and forth, sparks flying as it danced across iron flesh. It barely cut. It didn’t need to. Everywhere the sword touched, iron rusted. He danced around the golem, spreading blood colored rust across its skin. Soon, the entire upper half of the golem was coated in rust. Every time the golem moved flecks of rust showered the runway as they fell away from his body. Every time he raised his arm for another strike, his body screeched in protest, and he slowed down just a little more, slowly grinding towards an inevitable halt. The golem’s pilot eventually realized what was happening, and gave up trying to exchange blow for blow. Instead, the golem ducked low like a lineman, arms out wide to the sides, trying to catch the demon in a bear hug.
The demon was having none of that. He allowed the golem to close to within a step of him, then brought his sword down in a vicious two handed blow, severing the iron arm at it’s elbow. Another wave of greasy power oozed out as he danced around the golem, landing stab after stab on it’s massive torso. With every puncture flakes of rust bled into the air around them, animated into flurries by a seemingly sourceless wind. The golem stood against the onslaught for a few moments, but it was a futile fight. It was reduced to a modern art emplacement. Then cleaved into scrap metal. Ruined. Ruin.
The Choir of Ruin… He was of the fourth choir… Or was Ruin the third? Had to be Ruin… Couldn’t remember genesis… Have to… find Bible…
He stood over me, smiling.
My last thought before the darkness claimed me, was what the hell had I done…