The Price of Beauty
The Brass Automaton Saga Part III
This story started with Mark Gardner over at Article 94, and he explains its origins before diving into Part I, “The Brass Automaton.” Part III below picks up after the events in Part II, “Floating Smile.”
|| John laid in the hay feeling more exhausted than he ever had before. He wasn’t sure he could move again even if the Brass Man himself burst through the barn wall. He looked uneasily at the barn wall again, uncertain just how much of a probability it was. Reese seemed to read as mind as she said, “We should be safe here for the night. If nothing else we likely forced it to feed.”
John remembered something about it feeding on blood, and thought better of asking for any further details. He had only ever known Reese as his tutor, but she was, well, she was like a hero of old jumping off the page and into the flesh.
“How did you know there would be quicksand in the clearing?” John asked, finally. The weight of their second close escape kept running through his mind over and over again.
“I put it there,” she answered simply, before dashing up the ladder to recheck the barn’s loft.
“But, then why didn’t he follow us around the edge of the clearing?”
“Because he always follows in a straight line.”
“And what about the-”
“You ask a lot of questions John,” she said, firmly interrupting, “Maybe you should be resting.”
“And that’s another thing! How are you still so energetic? Especially since you’re a-” John stopped talking as abruptly as she had stopped moving, gulping at her stare.
“Only a woman?” she asked quietly.
“Well…” John answered, suddenly taking a keen interest in a particularly course strand of hay.
“Fine. After all, it’s you it wants to kill, you’ve at least earned the full story.”
John realized it had only been a matter of hours since he had demanded to know that story. Now the thought of it turned his stomach.
Reese snorted at his discomfort before starting, “Decades hence, the evil queen will not yet be a queen, but she will have given herself wholly to Evil. She came to the castle in the guise of a crone during a time of wary peace. We had been at war with our neighbors, the Rooskye, for generations. We didn’t so much have a truce with them, as that all their border incursions simply stopped.
“The main connector to our countries was The Bridge, spanning the deep, and cold, Allooashinn River. For three years no one from Rooskye had come over it, and no from Oossah who dared to cross had returned. Until she came across, appearing out of the fog on a sickly mare. It collapsed under her as soon as it reached Oossah soil, and she begged the Guards for aid. Soon enough she was telling her story in the Capitol to the Council of Nine.”
John thought he heard a faint rustling outside, but he brushed it off to one of the farm animals. The Brass Man was many things, but quiet was not one of them, and he was enraptured by Reese’s tale. “She had a silver hand mirror with her, which one of the Nine identified as belonging to the Rooskye Royal Family. She claimed to have been one of the Royal nannies, and, even more shocking the only surviving Rooskye left!”
“You mean of the Royal house, don’t you?” asked John incredulously.
“No, of all the Rooskye’s. She descibed in detail the Oossah’s Magical Mirror, and then showed them that the Silver hand mirror was of similar Magicks.”
“But the Magic Mirror was shattered centuries ago! Only seven fragments yet survive.”
“Magick obeys no law save its own. Not even time. The Mirror during this time is yet whole. Its not until it’s later shattered that the breaking spans through all of time.”
“But… That is…”
“Don’t. It just is. Whether it makes sense to any save Magick matters not.”
John shook his head a bit at that, wondering just how many animals the farm must have as he heard more shuffling outside as Reese continued, her eyes looking up in remembrance, “She showed an invading horde in the mirror. The Tenyks. Once men, twisted by Dark Magic into slavering, bloodthirsty savages, closer in mind to beast than man.
“The council panicked, of course, as they recognized the magnitude of the threat. They could see the Tenyks were mere days away from Oossah, and knew there was not enough time for them to marshal the countryside and ready defenders before the Evil horde arrived. So, when the crone offered them a solution, they leapt for it.
“They took her to the Magic Mirror where she used her Magick to connect to every reflection throughout the land. Whether it was a mirror, still water, or a shiny blade, her visage was seen. Just as she was about to call every male in Oossah to arms, her form changed before the Council’s eyes. She raised from her stoop, her warts and lesions gave way to smooth unblemished skin, and the years melted away from her face until it was beautiful beyond compare.
“Every man in the room fell into a dark swoon for her, as did every man in all of Oossah who saw her reflected. Their wills became lost in their darkened lust for her beauty, and she easily added them to her army.”
“She had an army, too?” asked John, feeling even more fright.
“Of course,” replied Reese, cocking her head, “Who else would the Tenyks be?”
Before John could answer the door and windows to the barn burst open, giving way to snarling, mindless men in mismatched black armor.
“Tenyks!” Reese shouted, “Quick John, to the loft!”
Continue on to Part IV, “The Sight of Time“