"A word that split the day from grey to
where rules run rings and chaos clings
like questions from a child."
Liz Green, 1999.
Smith toiled and sweated and toiled and swore.
His arms ached from bone to shoulder and complained long and loud as he insisted on keeping them moving. But they weren't singing any louder than the rest of his body, so why should he give them any special respite?
He held his work aloft and watched it swell in the fireglow, indistracted by its own hearty, orange heart and admired the progress of his handiwork. Nay, his craft. No idle toiler; he was an artist, a creator. The latest in a long line of gifted, studied maestros. His family had been smiths long before even the deceitful Normans came along and handed out surnames.
Right on cue, Smith settled the developing weapon back onto his ancient anvil and battered sweet response into its surface, striking at the perfect temperature, perfect temperament, perfect angle. And ceasing at exactly the correct time.
One meaty arm shuffled a stream across his brow and it ran a rippled course down the jarred curve of his face, plopped and became replaced with hardly a grease break. But it was best not to let himself think about the heat. The entire place became a vicious furnace intent on destroying flesh if ever he let it snigger its way into his preoccupations. Concentration was all. Accuracy the key.
Time to pause. Drink. Replenish his energies.
But that time was short and getting shorter - not yet nearly critical, but ticking all the same. It was important to keep his workrate as fluid now as it should be during the last available moments. He stretched, rested the idol and stepped back with some satisfaction, arching his spine and blinking a little of a solid week's smoke and sparks out of his eyes. He could hardly remember a time when events had run so smoothly.
Feet crawled across the floor and back to his labour. Over twirls of twisted metal spun off the lathe, shards of shattered moulding hammered into disposal, filings, imperfection strewn in a carnage diorama, radiating out from the altars of creation. And pieces squashed, bent under Smith's mighty feet. Sliced squeezing beds deep into the soles of his boots. Sharper than scalpels and blessed with far blunter discrimination.
Smith had no interest in removing the swarf - nor the grime and grease and rains of ashes. No part of his labour left the workspace until the task was done, and the Goblins' gleaming, homicidal totem spirited away with its troop of nervy, armoured escorts.
He grinned as he clamped the hilt and parted the coals once again. The denizens of Goblin, scarce and paranoid (even more than was natural to them) had approached him, the last great initiate metalworker with a request. A commission. Expecting all the time that he'd at best refuse, at worst slay the messengers, they'd sought to flatter him by their choice of human over dwarfish metallurgical mastery. Even though they might suspect he knew full well that they couldn't trust such an undertaking to the mountain races - no matter how much, nor how great a reason they needed to fear close proximity to humankind.
Smith had deigned to take it as the compliment it was intended to be, and he had no axe to grind with their kind. But he hadn't the heart to tell them that as far as he was aware, dwarves were by now an extinct species, wiped out along with so many of the hidden tribes by the rampaging, polluting intrusion of crass humankind into their worlds. Destroying through spite and ignorance alike. He suspected the goblins themselves were in some danger of following down the same path.
They'd only think he lied if he had told them.
He started at a noise.
It was only Norbert, his overenthusiastic Great Dane scratching at the door again. He'd been trying to get through it since Smith had first brought in the blood bucket.
The bucket he was just kicking over.
"Shit!Fuck!Bastard! Stupid fucking dog!" He thanked the Lord for the Anglo-Saxon invasions daily. Without them, many people would have no vocabulary at all.
He stooped and grabbed the rim in far less time than it took to recount all the trouble it took to fill the damned thing. Of course it had to be virgin's blood, drained not only from a living virgin, but from a still living virgin. If she died or got laid in the meantime, not only she was well and truly shafted. It took immense skill and judgement, and more than a little luck to drain such a terrific amount of blood from someone's body without killing them. And these days it was so very hard to come by any virgin at all (children were no good - apart from the fact that they really couldn't spare enough blood to complete the rite, it had to be post-pubescent, or ritual fertilisation wouldn't work), never mind one willing to give up armfuls of her life (yes, the donor also had to be female). Though he had, it was practically miraculous to find one who'd then consent to present him with the closely guarded cherry after the ritual was completed. The blood had to be no more than one week out of the body and no fresher than three days spilled. Smith himself was required to masturbate twice every day - once at noon, once at midnight - and squeeze every possible spurt over the rim, no later than the magic third last day, and leave his seed to work its own far from insignificant magic.
By now the liquid was getting pretty thick and scummy. And there was an unhealthy funk coming off it. Understandably the dog was desperate to get his face in there.
Even though Smith managed to move much faster than the ridiculous slow-motion effect of the bucket (it had an ancient, magical name, but Smith saw no need to glamorise it if the rite didn't require him to), a hefty slap sounded on the floor and viscous, blackening gunk settled into seeping itself in as wide a carpet as it possibly could. Before the air could wreak its astounding transformation.
Before allowing himself the luxury of panic, Smith righted the mixture and swept it up onto the bench, assessing his options as he moved.
There's enough. Thank Christ, there should be enough! He breathed so hard it almost drowned the sound of thought. Relief ravaged his body in tiny, trembling spots of numbness.
But he had no time to stop, catch his breath and celebrate a lucky escape. Solid days of time and effort had to be consolidated, and there was still much work to be done before midnight's deadline rolled around.
Smith left the mess where it lay. Not only could he spare no time to waste over it - and scooping up the splashes and squeezing them back into the melange was strictly forbidden; the taint too great - the accident had to be regarded part of the task. A Chaotic Intervention into the ritual. And hence an integral, if somewhat unexpected, facet of the complete spell.
Treading a sticky path and wiping foulness from his fingertips, Smith got back to work.
Smith toiled and sweated and ranted oaths.
Speaking so quickly, tongue moving like a harvester's blade, the spells began to merge into one, rising to barking, booming commands at odds with muttering, sibilant introversion. Hands touched steel, at times stirred the concoction, simmering, barely covering the weapon. Coincidental burps and bubble specked the blackening surface and Smith's eyes strained through a miasmic brume, thickening and swirling at odds, yet appearing not to reduce the potion's volume one iota.
"Aspartame laurate xanthan guar..."
Over and over he repeated the words, focused on naught but the rhythm. Lips automatically forming the sound. Throat thrumming cadence.
"...amil goolnik seian ultor. Aesir absinthium convol vulus..."
Words spinning faster and sharper and lost in a mangle of dissonance. They weaved their sorcery. Sinking into the metal and calling it to seek out powers thought forgotten long since the Earth cooled and the seas ceased to boil. The words had all translated themselves into usage, hidden away from prying meddlers in the safest place - in plain sight of every ignorant fool. But their true, primordial meaning disguised by co-operative, unwitting, forgetful mankind.
Smith's ancestors had been chosen, trusted. And bound. Unable to rescind the obligation, the memories. Whether or not they wished it. In return they were assured longevity, health and strength - and one male progeny of equal talent to prolong the line. Girls were many and nothing out of the ordinary, but as with so many archaic contradictions, only the male line retained the gift. And only one - always one - ever sprang from one father. All the way down the line.
The ritual went on until deep into the morning, ending abruptly, seemingly without ceremony three hours and thirty five minutes after its midnight inauguration.
Smith was blind through dehydration, completing the ritual on the tails of automaton exhaustion, lifting the completed weapon out of its final quenching and back into the healing air, smoothing off the last gobbets of scum and placing it gently into the arms of a restorative, protective sling.
He stumbled out into the celebratory darkness of his home, still functioning sufficient to secure his lair, and crept off, under a barrage of excited, yapping slaver, to collapse, spent into the comforting heat of one faithful, loping canine, and a cool, weak, somehow reduced virgin, still a long way from the flash of healthy, rutting youth.
Smith's snores practically shook the roof down.
And Norbert tried to match him.
The creator, Smith, had stayed blissfully unaware of the stirrings at his feet. Too caught up in grandiose affairs to take note of the rippling drama he'd authored beneath his blinkered gaze.
Metal above had reacted and obeyed, as had metal below. Bathed in the thickened tack of his dispurtum, scrapes and shards and filings and shavings had all danced to the hypnotic tune he sang, twitching and jumping and seeking out the wholeness exhorted by his voice, his spunk, her blood.
And then he'd left. The invocation's ceased. So abruptly that the silence seemed to have cowed him and beckoned him away, before completion. But it transpired that the stillness, the lightlessness, was an essential. Metal drank in the nutrient soup of dispurtum and sought out it's neighbour, snippets of swarf reaching for the state that would make them like their human father, their sacrificial human mother, yet again as their natural ore existence. At one with the mountains, yet at odds with the world.
Metal fused with metal, refined purity with crude spillage with sophisticated alloy, melding and moulding and creating structure, strength. Steel skeleton and copper veins stinging with charged plasma. Aluminium musculature and surgically sharp, barked yet polish-smooth titanium skin stretched and grew, sucking up the life-giving potions and discarded raw materials alike to feed it's insatiable thirst for being. Life had begun spontaneously, inadvertently, and there was no way the growing, learning, sensated creature intended to miss the opportunity to seize every chance at completing transformation and become. Mouth and eyes and neurons and limbs and speech and thought all tripped over one another to incorporate themselves inside the grand, chaos design.
Until one shaky hand levered it up and away from the floor to stand, shaking and naked, up on its own two feet and steadied itself, experiencing newborn shock and confusion, pain and heat and smell and darkness. It could feel. Could feel itself and the world around it.
It could feel that there was duality beating in its mercury heart. Languid and feminine, yet masculine and strong. Sensitive, intuitive, possessive and ferocious. Male and female - characteristics donated by its animal lineage. Human and mineral.
In a rage of calm and life and emotion and frenzy, Swarf was born.
Smith slept the sleep of the just. The sleep of a man who had pushed mind and body beyond the reasonable limit. The sleep of someone who had worked his whole life to perfect one moment in time, and suffered for that ideal.
The creation, the weapon, had been brought into being with every parameter carefully scripted, exactingly executed, and he knew that his commissioners would be overjoyed at the quality of his workmanship. And would gladly pay all that he had asked of them. He also knew that the finished weapon would do exactly what it was designed to do, wielded by the hands of the Goblins' chosen destructive architect.
But Smith's conscience could rest easy. For though their fresh, blood-dripping, hungry alloy beast would do all that was asked of it, Smith doubted that it could do all that was expected of it. Weapons, no matter how imbibed with power and living energy and invincibility could only exist to destroy. Through destruction the Goblins wished to create a new destiny. A dream of unity and safety. Perhaps even peace.
But this was all illusion.
Smith hadn't loosed a power to conquer or destroy the worlds. He had loosed a power that could only, inevitably, destroy those who possessed it. Consumed by satiated appetites for greed and power and wealth and control. And more destruction.
That was the weapon's nature.
Not unlike the nature of its builder. And its buyer. The world itself.
Norbert twitched and growled.
Smith shuffled aside and turned his chest out of the dog's claw-hold. And summoned the returning warmth of the sweet-scented, curve-padded bundle struggling back into life, now in his arms.
Sank back into deep sleep as she snuggled back into him.
He hoped that one of them at least would be fit enough soon to wake the other and fuck. Resurrection bred appetites anew.
Lazarus may have come back from the dead, but Christ had been lacking in his duty. Lazarus couldn't truly be alive until he'd been locked hip-deep inside tenacious womanhood (or whatever manner of beast inflamed his desire).
That was being alive.
Swarf paused in the doorway.
The four-legged creature growled and moved (is this the "Norbert"?). Had he sensed the presence of something other?
Swarf itself sensed the syrupy, metallic resonance oozing from every pore of their bodies as they slept and sweated out the heat and exhaustion. It hungered so badly. Birth had famished it, and Swarf needed, desired sustenance.
And these creatures had the same smell about them as its needle teeth required.
The same smell, odour that lubricated Swarf's veins. The same.
Another new sensation swelled in Swarf's chest. Love? Belonging?
This was, after all, its family. Smith and the living sacrifice and Smith's faithful companion. Swarf's flesh and blood.
Even though the glistening androgyny could boast no flesh, it had the blood. Their blood.
They would never come to harm as long as it existed. Swarf would see to that. One day maybe it'd even expose itself to them. The Prodigal returning to claim it's birthright.
But for now the rushing, iron calling of millions of meals waited impatiently out in the city beyond this room. He stared for a moment through drawn curtains at its distant, buzzing lights and felt the vibration of its bustle and thrill, inanity and spice.
Swarf turned and closed the door behind it.
There was feeding to be done.