Zero exhaled when he saw the door to Progress's Last Chance. He strode through piles of muddy slush on the cobblestones, no longer caring if his boots got soiled. Just a few more steps. Then he could relax in her presence and no longer pretend he had everything under control. Beside the door a metal automaton stood under the eaves. When had Miss V acquired one of those monstrosities? No matter. He grasped the door's brass handle.

A metal hand shot out in front of his chest. Zero flung himself backwards. He grasped the hilt of his knife, but did not draw it. The magic burning through the lapis stone resting against the hollow of his throat would be enough. Feet planted a shoulder's breadth apart, he waited. The automaton made no further moves. Zero stood up cautiously.

It resembled a man in form, but no one would ever mistake it for anything living. Hammered metal plates covered its chest, welded and riveted together. Metal scales coated its arms and steam hissed between the seams when it moved. Zero stared into the eye sockets of a skull secured with a helmet of metal. A sick feeling twisted into his stomach. It couldn't be real bone. Heat from the lapis stone pulsed against his neck. What did the magic sense?

"I would enter here," Zero said. He reached for the door handle and didn't jerk away when its arm blocked his way in a cloud of steam. Zero forced his gaze back to the empty eyes. "It is a mistake to bar me. Move aside."

The automaton didn't react. Then it leaned forward. A small enough movement, but Zero pulled magic from the stone. Magic arced between his fingers like lightning. The automaton paid him no mind. Zero traced the path of its pseudo-gaze and the sight of his muck covered boots confronted him. He shifted his gaze back to the skull. It couldn't seriously be his boots.

"I shall wipe them inside. Step aside."

Metal screamed quietly when it shook its head. His magic flared and lightening prickled across his hands. Automatons could not answer questions. Elementals could. He ground his teeth together. This must be one of Priest's creatures then. A perverse fusion of elven magics and human science.

Zero placed his palm against the skull's cheekbone. Lightening shot from his skin into the bone. A fracture raced across the skull's forehead. The bone cracked with a dull pop. Steam hissed out like a sigh and its arm slowly sank down. The automaton didn't move when he opened the door and stepped inside. He wiped his boots with a cloth hung from a banister. Miss V noticed him from behind the bar and a smile tugged at her lips. Zero inclined his head. Still the image of the skull wouldn't leave his thoughts and Zero swore Priest would pay. But not today.

Wordage: skull, prickle
Genre: Steampunk
Word count: 487

1 comment:

  1. Oh, sweet! Zero's back. I like him. He definitely needs a big story. :)


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