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Short Story: The Gilded Heart

Tim White

Writer, Designer
Brightrock Games
Apr 26, 2016
72
46
200
#1
Read the previous instalment, “The Aureate Artisan”.


“Don’t get too close ...” came a voice from behind him. Gidro looked around and saw the inspector disappearing down the tunnel. “Unless you want turning to gold yourself!” The inspector’s lamp faded away, until Gidro was stood in darkness again.

He felt the golden scar in his side, and stepped back from the wall of brimstone. Who in their right mind builds a city next to a volcano? Seeing Lord Saffire, the master artisan, at work had better be worth it. Though Gidro was somewhat sceptical about how the lord was going to procure raw material. Frankly, he didn’t believe in a jewel that could magic gold out of thin air.

Gidro waited. And waited. And began to wonder if he was the victim of yet another prank. A twinkle caught his eye, then the rock face in front of him began to glow. It glowed brighter and brighter, until Gidro swore the sun itself was rising inside the cavern. He shielded his eyes. There was a metallic ring, and the light receded.

When Gidro eventually risked a peek, he saw a golden rock face - a perfect jagged mirror that even in the dark reflected his rotund, shimmering face, with mouth agape. “Bleeding hell ...” escaped from his lips. He touched the wall, and the cool, pockmarked surface eased his mind.

He grabbed his pickaxe and turned back to the wall. “Seems a shame,” he said, feeling the weight of the axe in his hands.

“Sappers, draw!” boomed an exotic voice down the tunnel. Lord Saffire. Gidro drew back his axe. “And do not forget - whistle while you work! I want to hear sweet, sweet chansons! Comprenez-vous?”

Whistle? Gidro pursed his lips and blew. The dry wail that emerged conjured images of dying deserts and empty mountains. Probably not what Lord Saffire had in mind ...

“Commencer!” screamed Saffire. Gidro swung at the golden wall.

*

The whistling that echoed through the tunnels had stopped, Gidro now realised. They must have gone back to the tavern. A great idea! He’d been digging for a whole thirty minutes, after all, and had already amassed a satisfying pile of golden shards on the floor.

Gidro leaned his axe against the wall and turned to go. A golden light shone down the tunnel. Crikey! The inspector was back already. He heard the clanging of armour, and then the shadow of a huge knight was cast upon the wall. Gidro nearly choked on his Adam’s apple.

His hands searched for his axe. They found it. He turned away and grabbed it. When he looked back the golden Sentinel had turned the corner, its gleaming long sword drawn high above its head. Gidro saw the bodies of his friends, and the Sentinel - perhaps this Sentinel - marching away through the lava with methodical indifference.

The sword swung down on him. Gidro parried, and took the blow with surprising ease. He pushed the Sentinel back, and as it recoiled, he saw how its armour was dented and dirty. He charged. He reversed his axe, and drove the haft into the Sentinel’s chest plate. It staggered backwards, the gold shards that Gidro had diligently mined earlier splintering under its weight. It dropped to one knee. This bucket head was injured ...

Smiling at his imminent victory, Gidro swung at the Sentinel. But as he did, the knight sparkled gold. It caught his axe in its hand, and its helmet turned to look at him. The gold shards rolled across the floor, pitter-pattering towards the Sentinel. They flashed into its armour. It shone radiant, and shoved Gidro away - he skidded down the tunnel on his back.

The Sentinel stood, gilded anew, as dazzling as the walls of the cavern. It marched forwards with rejuvenated vigour. Gidro heaved himself up, and stumbled away down the tunnel.

*

“Help!” Gidro bellowed again. No one answered. He stopped running, and bent over to catch his breath.

Alright, this so-called “Kasita” was real. And she had Sentinels. And she could heal them. Sweet mercy ... Gidro would gladly devour the largest slice of humble pie the next time he was in the tavern; if he could just live long enough to see another tavern ...

He felt like he was being watched. He glanced up. Just ahead, squatting on all fours and leering at him from the dark, was a stone gargoyle. He stepped closer. It was exquisitely carved - courtesy of Lord Saffire, no doubt - but it was also exquisitely ugly. The clanging resounded in the distance. The Sentinel was here.

Gidro darted into an alcove in the tunnel’s wall, and stood upright and tall, holding his axe firmly in front of his chest. The element of surprise would be his only advantage against this dogged warrior. And it wouldn't be enough.

Light shone down the tunnel. The clanging came closer, and was joined by the smashing of metal against metal. Gidro peered around the corner, and saw the Sentinel step around a newly-constructed, glistening monolith, like the one he’d seen before. This wasn’t his lucky day. As he ducked back into the alcove, a wisp of gold floated in the air, then whooshed away towards the monolith.

The Sentinel’s shadow appeared on the wall in front of him. Gidro gripped his axe tightly. His mouth was dry. What he wouldn’t give for a pint of mead. Then the Sentinel was right there. But it continued marching ... His chance was slipping away ...

The tunnel exploded in pearlescent purple. A rushing noise assailed his ears, like ocean waves crashing on rocks. A shaft of light had struck the Sentinel, and stopped it dead in its march. It was buffeted by the force, its armour denting before Gidro’s eyes. It stepped backwards, trying to brace against the assault. Then Gidro’s axe fell. He smashed the Sentinel’s leg. Golden light erupted from the opening, startling against the purple beam, which Gidro now saw was spewing from the gargoyle’s mouth. The beam knocked the Sentinel onto its back. Gidro swung his axe low and whacked its helmet clean off across the floor. The golden, swirling shadow of its face emanated from the armour, and seemed to turn and look at Gidro. Then the face was somehow twisted and contorted. The golden light was drawn away towards the monolith, which sparkled insatiably. When Gidro looked down again, the Sentinel had turned to solid gold.

The gargoyle ceased its assault. Silence and darkness fell once more. But even in the dark, Gidro’s eyes flashed at what lay before him. It was hardly the work of Lord Saffire, but nevertheless: Gidro had created his first Phaestian statue.


Read the final instalment, “The Colossal Dwarf”.
 
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