Aging Gracefully

by Chris O'kane

Misha heard the clock behind him chime four in the afternoon and stood up and stretched. The Dukes audience chamber was getting stuffy, so he went to the window and opened it.

"Are we boring you?" Wessex asked in a sarcastic tone.

The fox turned to the table. The Duke, Wessex, Rickkter, Hough, Matthias, Jon, and Smithson all looked at him. "Yes you are. Do you realize we've been at this for seven straight hours. For the last two hours I've had to suffer through a discussion on magic and magic bindings. What do we have to show for it. Nothing. Thomas asked you a simple question, 'Is Madog now under my control?' You still haven't answered it."

"That's not an easy thing to answer," Rickkter said.

The fox waved his hands in the air. "Don't start that again," he shouted. "Basically you can't be sure if I'm really in control of him or not, because his magic is blocking you. Correct?"

"Correct," Wessex answered.

"So anymore argument on the subject is futile," Misha stated.

"I believe we've said all that could be on the subject. We will move on," Duke Thomas commanded. "What have we covered so far Sindia?"

The leopard leafed through her papers for a moment. "We have finished general knowledge, overall condition, personality, weight, dimensions, and magic."

Wessex looked around at the group. "We miss anything?" he questioned.

Sindia raised a hand, "What about his name?" Everyone looked at her.

"What do you mean?" Misha asked.

"Well. Has anyone considered where he got the name Madog? It's a very unusual name, and very old. Madog was the name of an early Suielman emperor. I remember that because he wrote an autobiography." Sindia explained.

"I remember him now. That man died over fifteen hundred years ago," Smithson said.

Thomas turned to the automaton who was stretched out on top of a side table playing with a silver candlestick. "How old are you?"

The metal animal shook it's head. "Don't know. I remember being in Vernosa's workshop. Nothing before that."

"Could he be that old?" Wessex asked.

Misha shrugged. "No way of telling exactly. Aluminal was used for his skin, and that metal was invented about four hundred years ago. But, some of his gearing and framework are brass or bronze. They could be a thousand years old."

"There are stories about automatons being built during the Suielman empire. Mostly as toys for the royal family, but nothing so sophisticated," Smithson commented.

Suddenly Rickkter jumped up and headed for the door. "Oh, bloody hell!" he exclaimed.

"Wait, where are you going?" Wessex called.

"I'm going to check something that I should have looked at a very long time ago," he explained going out the door.

"Does he do this a lot?" Thomas asked.

Misha nodded. "Annoying isn't it?

"He is coming back?" the boy mage asked.

The fox nodded. "Rick will be back when he's found out whatever's bothering him."

"What do we know about the automatons built by the Suielman empire?" Thomas asked.

"Just a few stories," Jon said. "Many tales say they were assassins used for getting rid of the emperor's enemies. One story describes an automaton that was disguised as a beautiful woman but covered with spikes. It would seduce a man and crush him to death with her spiked embrace. Other tales tell of an emperor who rode a solid gold horse."

Misha nodded. "I remember an empress was supposed to have a bronze minotaur that wielded a huge axe."

Thomas laughed. "Leave it to you to remember a story with an axe in it." The whole group broke up over that joke.

When the laughter died down the Duke continued. "So it's possible for Madog to be over a thousand years old?"

"Yes," Jon confirmed. "If such things were really produced by the empire it would have been kept secret. Which would explain our lack of solid information."

"It's hard to tell anything from those old stories," Smithson commented. "Most of them are just wild tales told to entertain people."

"But the Suielman really did build some very sophisticated automatons," Misha said. "So it is possible for him to be that old."

"What about Madog's personality?" How old he is has no real bearing on whether or not he should stay?" Matthias commented.

"Good point," Misha added.

"With that much power Madog just can't be trusted. He has to be destroyed," Wessex announced adamantly.

"Why? There are many people here at the keep who are very powerful but are allowed to stay. Like Magus, Misha and you Wessex," Hough countered.

Thomas shook his head. "That's different, those people can be trusted."

"That's what it all boils down to. Can we trust Madog?" Jon commented.

"Can I?" Thomas asked. "I have to think of the health and safety of everyone at Metamor Keep, not just myself."

"If he's such a danger Lord Thomas, how come he isn't locked in a cage? The simple fact that he's allowed to walk around, even under guard, implies a certain amount of trust," Hough replied.

"You forget that Misha has personally vouched for Madog," the Duke answered. "Plus I am still not convinced that he is dangerous."

"Well, I think I've solved several of your mysteries," said a voice from the doorway.

Misha turned to find Rickkter standing in the doorway, reading from an open book he was holding.

"What do you mean?" asked Wessex.

"I mean that I know what we're dealing with now," Rickkter replied. He walked over to the table, tapping the tome he was holding. "According to this Misha, your creation is somewhere between two thousand five hundred, and two thousand eight hundred years old."

"But . . . that's impossible," Jon stammered. "His skin is made entirely of aluminal, and that was first used around three hundred years ago."

"I didn't say anything like that. I said that Madog itself was two thousand five hundred years old. According to this, back then, the Suielman empire managed to unlock the ability to fuse a life force with an inanimate object. Now, this had been done before but they took it one step further. The Suielman fused the life force and the soul of a creature into the automaton," the raccoon explained.

"Astounding," Smithson muttered.

"Well, that's not the whole story. The Suielman experiment was only partially successful, many of the crossovers never took completely. The creations became mentally unstable after a while," Rickkter said.

"You mean they went crazy," Wessex suggested.

"That still doesn't explain how Vernosa created Madog," Hough pointed out.

"I was getting to that part. You see, what I think Vernosa did was exactly what Misha did. He rebuilt Madog, replacing all the parts that were too damaged to function. Like the skin, it was probably too corroded or too weak to keep. Somehow he recovered some information dealing with the construction of the original automatons. He used that knowledge to repair and gain control of Madog."

"I'm curious about something," Matthias said. "Why didn't the Suielman continues the experiments and fix the problem? After all they were the most powerful mages ever to walk the earth."

"Two reasons," Rickkter explained. "First working such magic was very difficult and dangerous. One mistake could be catastrophic. The other is time. You were there, and saw the runes on Madog. That would have taken a team of mages months to do. And look at the gearage. You can measure it in miles, for crying out loud."

"Why was none of this brought to my attention?" Thomas asked.

Rickkter shrugged. "Probably because I was the first to do some correlation work between 'Mysteries of the Monolith' and 'The Suielman Legacy'. I guess that Jon, Misha and Smithson never bothered looking for precedence of this kind of thing before. I've worked with Monolith in the recent past, and I remembered something that sounded like Madog. Frightening stuff that was done back then."

Misha uttered a low growl. His ears laid back, he bared a set of long sharp teeth at the raccoon. "Never bothered," he hissed. "Never bothered. I find your choice of words insulting."

Jon jumped up. "What do we look like to you Rickkter? A bunch of bumbling idiots?"

"We have better things to do in our lives than wander around hunting for magic like a greedy fool Rickkter," Misha said, barely containing his rage. "If Madog is supposed to be unstable and over two millennia old why hasn't he gone completely insane? HAS IT EVER ENTERED YOUR TINY LITTLE MIND THAT THIS EXPERIMENT SUCCEEDED!" Misha screamed.

"I can't explain it!" retorted the warrior mage. "All I know says that Madog should not be functioning as he is. Maybe the Suielman succeeded in this case. Maybe it was Vernosa, maybe it was even you. He may yet break down, I don't know!"

"Then all you have are guesses and wild accusations," countered the fox. "All you did was dig until you found something that met your ideas on how dangerous Madog was, and presented them to us as fact!"

"Misha, relax," Thomas suggested in a calm voice.

"NO!" The fox shouted. "I've had enough of this mindless debate. We can argue this for years and never have an answer." He shook his head and waved his arms. "Rickkter says Madog is dangerous. Father Hough says he's a good soul, and harmless. Basically it all boils down to who do you believe. Rickkter, who is an expert on magic, or Hough, who is an expert on souls?"

Wessex nodded his head. "That about sums it up."

Rickkter slammed the book down on the table, causing everyone to jump. He flipped over the cover to a random page. "All right, Misha. You want me to show you why I'm qualified to judge." The raccoon's voice wasn't as blatantly aggressive as Misha's, but there was an undercurrent of barely contained threat. He pointed to a random passage. "If you can read that passage for us, then I will back down from my whole stand on this issue. I will even take your side, welcoming Madog to Metamor Keep."

The others assembled watched the two friends who were on the verge of killing each other. Rickkter stood stone still, glaring at the fox, his look daring Misha to disprove him. After several long moments Misha turned away with a snarl. "You know I cannot read a word of it, I don't even know what language it's written in."

"Father Hough, if you would please look at this," said the raccoon, his gaze never leaving the fox. When the priest could do no better the scout, Rickkter continued around the rest of the group, even including Sindia. Of them all, only Jon could read the passage in the book.

"Two out of all of us could have recovered this information," said Rickkter. "Don't kill the messenger just because you don't like the message, Misha."

It was Charles who brought them all back to the main course of the discussion. "But we're still back to the original argument," he pointed out. "Is the soul that is now Madog good or evil?"

Father Hough reached over and closed the book with a loud snap. "I don't need a book to tell me about Madog. My prayers to Abba have confirmed what my heart already knew." He pointed to the automaton. "I know he is a good soul. Does your book have section on souls?" Hough asked.

The raccoon didn't answer, but just looked towards the window.

"The Duke gave you a second chance at life, Rick. Madog deserves the same opportunity. Thomas, look into those blue eyes and tell me he's not harmless," Misha said and pointed at Madog.

Everyone turned to look at the creature. Wessex smiled, Matthias openly laughed and even Rickkter chuckled at the sight.

"Misha," Lord Thomas said in a stately voice. "Your harmless soul is eating Grandmother's fine, silver candlesticks."

Misha, Rickkter and Matthias stood in the hallway outside of the Duke's audience chamber. "I hope you won't think less of me for what I've said, Misha," remarked Rickkter. "I do value your friendship and hope that this won't it's end. But you must know that I will never back down from a fight, any fight, no matter the opponent."

The fox nodded. "I understand. A lot of what you said made sense and I don't think less of you for voicing them. There is a lot about Madog we don't understand. I can't explain it, but my heart tells me that Hough is right. Madog isn't dangerous, he belongs here, like we do."

"I'll see you at the Mule later?" Rickkter asked.

"Sure. After all this I need to relax," Misha answered.

With a nod of the head Rickkter took his leave and departed. The rest of the group had already left, so it was just the two of them waiting. After several minutes of awkward silence the doors to the audience chamber opened. Madog slowly backed out of the room, then stopped and bowed. "Thank you Lord Thomas," he said. The doors closed leaving Madog, Matthias, and Misha standing in the hallway alone.

"So, what did the Duke have to say to you?" the rat asked.

"He say, I have to behave my self and listen to Father Hough and Misha," the automaton explained. "How tall is the castle?" he asked.

"Huh? Why do you want to know?" Misha asked.

"Lord Thomas say if I eat anymore of his property he'll throw me from the highest tower."

Misha and Matthias laughed. The fox patted the automaton on the head. "Don't worry, Madog. Just stay away from his candlesticks and you'll be fine."

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"Aging Gracefully", copyright Chris O'kane