The rogue appeared back in camp suddenly, barely making a single whisper to announce his presence. “They’re getting closer,” he announced.
Sitting on top of a log, the warrior nearly dropped his polishing stone in surprise. “Dammit, man, what have we told you about making some sort of noise when you show up?” he growled, his deep baritone making his plates of armor vibrate. “Scared the dickens out of me!”
“Maybe if you pried some of the waxy armor polish out of your ears, you might manage to hear me,” the rogue retorted, and the two glared daggers at each other for a moment.
“Hey, quiet!” The mage stepped forward, holding up his hands. “Enough! Let’s focus on staying alive. You say that they’re getting closer?”
The rogue shot one last glare at the warrior, but then nodded. “Yeah. Advancing steadily, spreading out. Looks like they’re trying to loop around us, cut us off from any path of escape. We can still slip the noose, but we’ll need to move quickly.”
“We’d move a lot faster without that thing,” the warrior growled, transferring his angry, burly glare over to me.
I cringed deeper into the ground, feeling the bite of the vicious, wicked iron against my wrists as the chains shifted. The mage, however, stepped in front of me, holding up his hand.
“No, we can’t,” he stated. “Look, we went to great lengths to capture the creature. We need to bring it back, to show the king what we’re really fighting against, what he’s facing.”
“So?” hissed the rogue, producing a dagger from somewhere on his person. “We can carry a head just as easily as a whole body, probably a lot more easily. Let’s just slit its throat and take the head.”
“As much as I hate to agree with him, I do,” the warrior added. “Come on, mage. You can’t really think it’s anything but a killing machine.”
I hissed. The warrior was right, of course. Before the magical nets of the mage finally brought me down, long enough for the accursedly fast rogue to dance forward and snap a pair of metal cuffs around my wrists, binding me, I’d cut my way through a swath of their men. Indeed, they thought that their armored shells, their cunning, would be enough to keep me from them? I knew that my claws could pierce the warrior at his weak spots, killing him even inside his metal shell.
“See, look at it,” the warrior growled. “Even now, it’s fantasizing about our deaths. The thing deserves to be killed, put it out of its misery.”
“No.” The mage tossed out the single word, as if this was enough.
I knew that it wouldn’t be enough, not this time. The warrior and the rogue had been growing more and more restless over the last couple hours as we hurried, trying to get away from my fellows as they swept forward across the land. I suspected that I wouldn’t live to see the next morning.
The rogue stepped forward, the dagger twinkling in his hand. “Come on, now. You can’t truly feel any pity for the thing. You know that they were created, right? They weren’t ever really born. Just created by the thousands through dark sorcery, raised to slaughter us. They’re only meant to kill until they get killed themselves.”
“And how much of that is instilled in them through how they’re raised?” asked the mage, still standing in front of me. His back was to me, his attention fully on his other two companions. “Come, now, are we not any better than them? So quick to kill?”
“Quick to kill?” repeated the warrior in disbelief. “They’re the enemy! Their purpose is to die!”
“You speak about the thing as if it’s human!” the rogue added, on his feet beside the warrior, their feuding momentarily forgotten as they united against the mage. “It’s not! It’s a damn construct, raised for nothing but killing! That’s all that it knows, all it will ever do!”
“Yes, as long as you treat it that way!” the mage roared back, glaring out at them. He stood there, his back to me, and I sensed my chance.
I rose up to my feet, feeling my bones grinding against each other in the legs. The accursed metal cuffs still bound my wrists, but I still possessed the bone spurs in my arms, and felt them flick out and engage. I lunged forward, wrapping them around the mage’s neck. A single twist, and I’d tear him apart to shreds.
It wouldn’t be enough, of course. The warrior and rogue, especially together, could kill me with my bindings keeping me back. But at least I’d fall with one more enemy joining me…
I knew that I should move now, before the mage could recover and cast some sort of spell. But strangely, he didn’t move, still just standing there, feeling my bone blades pressed against his vulnerable flesh.
“There’s more to them than just killing,” he repeated – and then, slowly, he turned to look up at me!
I stared down at him, struggling. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t acting, why I hadn’t ripped him apart already. I could practically hear his death gurgles in my head. I’d kill him, and then-
-and then, his companions would kill me. I’d be dead, just like my companions, just like all the others I’d struck down.
My purpose would be achieved.
But still, towering over the mage, I couldn’t do it. Somehow, I felt some strange force inside my head holding me back, whispering just barely that there could be something else.
Such an easy voice, so easily squashed and silenced. But I didn’t.
And then, after an eternity, the bone spurs slowly slid back into my arms, back in amid the other twisted bones that formed my body around the current of pure spirit that gave me life. I stiffly lifted my arms, releasing the mage.
The warrior and the rogue both stared up at me, their weapons still ready in their hands. But the mage wore a small smile, as if he’d just proven some hypothesis to be correct.
“And now, we keep going,” he said, as if nothing at all had happened. “Come along, construct.”
We once again set off into the trees, moving as quickly as we dared, now starting to hear the unearthly roars of my companions as they moved forward behind us.