Snips and Snails

by Chris O'kane






chapter 1


Jon stopped in front of the door to Misha's room. The Keep antiquarian had a good idea why he had been asked him to come. The fox seemed to have a knack for finding all sorts of things that Jon found interesting. Curious, the white tailed deer morph knocked on the door three times.

"Come in," he heard someone say from the other side.

Opening the door Jon stepped through into Misha's apartment. The first thing he noticed was a large backpack sitting in the middle of the floor. A camouflage patterned shirt was draped over a chair, and near the bed a pair of boots lay where they had been thrown in haste. Of their owner there was no sign.

"Hello?" The buck asked aloud to the empty room.

"I'm in my workshop Jon. The door's by the fireplace," Misha answered.

Jon followed the voice into the next room, and found him kneeling on the floor of his workshop.

Misha looked up at Jon and waved him over. "Come here, you have to see what I've found, " Misha said excitedly.

Curious, Jon moved closer. Laying on the stones underneath his hooves was an odd lump of dirt and debris about as big as a man. Looking carefully he made out a small rust covered gear sticking out the top. Getting down on his knees he looked closer.

What at first glance had looked like a worthless pile of dirt and rock was instead a single corroded, dirt-encrusted object. "What is it, and where did you get it?" the stag asked excitedly.

"One of the work crews found this when they were widening a road two days ago. It was my luck to be nearby at the time. As to what it is, I don't have the vaguest idea," Misha answered.

Jon examined the object with great care. He could make out various gears, rods, and unidentifiable bits of metal all corroded together into one lump. "It looks like some sort of machine. Maybe some great clock, or the like."

Misha pointed to a small cylinder shaped bit laying on the top of the object. "Isn't that part of a metal leg," he said.

"It is!" the deer exclaimed. "Do you have anything I can use to clean this with?" he asked.

The fox reached under his workbench and produced some rags and two small brushes. He handed one of the brushes to John and together they started the laborious task of cleaning.

A few minutes excited work brought to light more of the limb and revealed part of the shoulder it was attached to. They caught sight of another leg, bent and twisted, underneath the first. The metal skin on the leg had broken, revealing rods and tiny gears inside. Misha stopped cleaning and examined the innards of the leg for a moment.

"Jon, I think this is an automaton," Misha said.

"A what?" was the reply.

"A mechanical figure. You know, you wind it up and it moves its head, wags it tail and things like that," the scout explained.

"Are you sure?" Jon asked.

"No, I'm not sure, but a statue doesn't have gears in it, and if it's not a statue or an automaton, what is it?" was the answer.

"Good question. It's definitely some sort of figure, but I don't know what type," Jon commented. The stag stood up and thought for a moment before speaking, "It's going to take a lot of work to clean all the dirt and debris off. We have to plan this carefully, we'll need more brushes, some picks, water, and some chemicals. Would you mind if I had my mentor Smithson join us? He's the real expert on things like this."

"No, I don't mind at all." Misha answered. He looked at the clock on the wall, "Its, eleven now, I have to get cleaned up and report in on my mission. How about we meet back here at three p.m. That enough time to get organized?" he asked.

"Plenty," Jon answered brushing the dirt off of his hands. The two of them moved toward the door. Misha stopped and looked at the artifact laying on the floor behind them.

"I wonder what it is?" the fox asked.

"I don't know but it'll be exciting to find out," was the reply. The deer stared at the object trying to make sense of the little he could make out. For a moment he imagined he saw the vague outline of some crouching predator, ready to spring, and a cold shiver ran down his spine.




chapter 2


Misha was late, when he arrived back at his room Jon and a goat morph were waiting at the door their arms filled with bundles and baskets.

"Sorry I'm late but my meeting took longer than I thought. The boss had lots of questions." He opened the door and ushered them both into his apartment.

Stopping at his desk the fox opened a drawer and dropped some papers into it. Then he closed and locked the drawer with a key. "Ok, I'm officially off duty for the next few days," he announced.

"Misha, I don't think you've ever met my mentor, Smithson," Jon said. "Smithy, I'd like you to meet Misha, head scout here at the Keep."

The fox and the goat shook hands in greeting.

"Where's the artifact you found?" the goat asked excitedly.

Misha laughed, "You sound as excited about it as I am. It's in my workshop, through here," he said and escorted them into the next room.

The goat immediately started examining the object lying on the floor. "Fascinating! Intriguing, definitely a most unusual object you have here."

"Any idea what it is," Misha asked quietly.

"No," the goat replied.

"It's some sort of mechanical device, isn't it?" the scout pressed.

"It might be, but we won't know till it's cleaned up," came the reply.

The two historians immediately started to unpack their tools. From the bundles and baskets they had brought Jon and Smithson took out all manner of equipment. There were a surprising number of brushes of all shapes and sizes, the smallest was no more a few hairs wide. The largest was wider than a splayed out hand. These were carefully laid on the floor along with various spoons, hand trowels, rags and several bottles of chemicals.

"You two certainly come equipped," Misha commented dryly.

"I believe in the right tool for the right job," Jon said.

Misha nodded in agreement. Leaving the two herbivores to their unpacking Misha went back into the other room. From the chest under the window he removed a bottle of wine and a glass. He poured himself a glass of wine and returned to the workshop.

Smithson looked up at the fox and scowled, but didn't say anything.

"Don't get in a huff Smithson, I don't intend to get drunk. After two months in the field I think I deserve a glass of wine or two," Misha said in an angry tone.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to judge you. Sometimes I forget how hard life can be for you scouts," the goat answered.

Misha finished the drink in one gulp and put bottle and glass on a shelf. "No problem Smithy. I'm still a little on edge from the patrol. You two ready to get down to business?"

"Do you know how to do this Misha?" the goat asked.

Misha nodded, "Yes, I've done some small pieces with Jon, but nothing this big."

"I trust him to do things right, he has a good eye for this work," Jon said in support.

"All right then, let's get to work," Smithson answered.

Cleaning the artifact was no easy matter, it weighed over four Hundred pounds. A quarter of that was just dirt and debris.

At first they talked as they cleaned, but after a while the conversation faded and the trio worked in silence. It was slow, tedious work, but long hours of brushing, washing, and scraping brought results. Slowly a figure began to emerge from the mass.

They started with the leg and shoulder revealed earlier. As the dirt was removed the shape of the leg revealed it to be a foreleg. Carefully the shoulder was cleaned and then the other foreleg, now just a bent and twisted mess. As the dirt came off it a thick round neck appeared, a bent and twisted gear sticking through the metal skin.

As Jon and Smithy cleaned the torso, Misha worked on the head. It was just a twisted black lump when he started. With a small trowel he carefully removed the worst of the dirt. Then he switched to smaller trowel one no bigger than a teaspoon, and a brush.

A long black mass sticking out of the front slowly became a muzzle without a jaw attached. He found the jaw completely twisted and broken into three pieces lying between the front legs. After cleaning them Misha placed the fragments on a shelf for safety.

The fox slowly worked his way up the muzzle to the cheeks and up to the top of the head. Where the ears should have been were two ragged holes. Around the edge of the right hole he found tiny flecks of gold. Using tweezers he removed the flecks and placed them in an envelope. On the outside of the envelope he wrote, "Right ear hole," and put it on the shelf next to the jaw.

He left the eyes for last. They would be delicate and the most difficult to clean. For them he used a tooth brush, and worked with even greater care than before. It took an hour of delicate brushing and wiping before he finished.

Misha sat back and looked at the face he had just revealed. Laughing out he broke silence that had lasted for over an hour. Startled, Jon and Smithson looked at their compatriot in bewilderment.

"Well, hello little brother," Misha said to the metal face. He had a right to laugh in surprise, as the face that looked back at him, although battered, twisted, and corroded was a fox's.

"Well Misha, It seems you've found a long lost relative," Jon said laughing.

"It does indeed," Misha replied.

The scout stood up and stretched, his whole body was stiff and sore. He examined the figure for the first time as a whole rather than as bits and pieces to be cleaned.

The metal animal was about twice the size of its flesh and blood counterpart. It was lying on its left side with three of its legs bent and twisted. The tail had completely broken off and it's head was bent at an un-natural angle. That meant the rods supporting the neck were broken.

The whole body was the reddish brown color of corrosion. Only in one or two places did a dark gray color of the original metal show through. That metal skin was torn, punctured and corroded in thousands of places. Large parts of the skin were missing completely, torn or corroded away. Looking inside through one of these holes Misha saw a twisted jumble of rods, wheels, gears and other unrecognizable bits and pieces.

"No doubt about, it was some sort of mechanical figure once. A quite lovely one," Jon commented.

"Shame, it was a beautiful work of art at one time," Smithson added.

"True, it must have been magnificent when it worked," Misha said in a distracted voice. In his mind he was already planning something more for the figure.

"Misha, you have any more of that wine?" Smithson asked.

"Sure, I'll go get it," came the answer.

Misha quickly retrieved the bottle and two more glasses. He quickly filled all three glasses with wine.

"Do you realize we've been working for twelve hours straight?" Smithson commented as he sipped the wine.

The fox sipped some wine and pointed to the figure, "How long do you think it will take to clean out the insides of my metal pet?"

"Clean the insides? That's impossible to gauge, until we get a proper inspection of the interior," the goat morph guessed.

"What are you thinking about Misha?" Jon asked.

"I can fix him," the fox said in a matter of fact tone of voice.

"You mean fully restore it back to working condition. I think the wine has gone to your head dear fox," the stag replied.

Smithson shook his head, "No, he's serious."

"I can do it. It'll take a long time, but I can do it," the scout countered.

"It'll mean a lot of work, at least a year or more," Smithson said.

"Probably longer than that, seeing as I'll have to work on it in my spare time," Misha said.

"You really intend to restore it," Jon said.

"Yes I do. You two care to help?" the fox asked teasingly.

Smithson laughed out loud, "You already know the answer to that."




chapter 3


The job of restoring the corroded figure lying on the floor of Misha's workshop was a daunting task. It had to be done with care and patience, a slow task at best, but Misha was in no hurry.

First he had to remove the skin on one side to get at the interior.




"Please go easy with the saw, the metal's ripping instead of cutting," Smithson said anxiously.

"I'm trying, but this metal is so fragile it's like cutting tissue paper," Misha replied.

"Why don't you try using that small modeling knife," the goat suggested.

"Is the blade sharp?" the vulpine asked. "OUCH!"

"Misha, your supposed to cut the figure's skin, not you're own," Jon said.

"Jolly joker. Here," Misha said handing Jon the knife, "you cut for a while."




Once the skin was removed, he could finally get a good look at the interior. What he found was a mass of gears, wheels, rods, levers and other parts. It was in surprisingly good condition considering the terrible shape of the skin.

Misha studied the interior for a long time without touching anything, trying to understand exactly how this automaton worked. He made countless sketches and took volumes of notes. Even with help from Jon and Smithson it wasn't an easy task.




"Hello! Cutter, are you here?" Misha said out loud to the empty library.

In a moment the fox morph walked into view from behind some bookcases. "Misha! Hello! What can I do for you?" Cutter asked cheerfully.

"I'm looking for some rare books. Can you get me a complete copy of Archamealos' 'Automatomica' and the companion volume 'Mechanica'?" the scout asked hopefully.

"Hmmm, let me look," the librarian said and quickly disappeared down one of the rows of shelves. He came back a few minutes later with three books.

"Found the two you wanted and I also came upon Mertwin's book 'Mechanicals'. I thought that might be of help to you," the librarian said.

"Great Cutter! You're a Godsend, Thanks," Misha replied.




"Now let's see, this long thick rod must be the shaft for the main gear that works the tail. These two smaller rods must work the hind legs. But what does this do?" Misha asked pointing to a twisted, rusted gear.

Smithson shook his head, "I've no idea, but maybe it has something to do with that small rod down there, or that one over there."




After a while he began the slow process of removing all the innards. Each piece removed was given a number that was inked onto it. When the ink had dried it was carefully placed aside for later inspection.

Once the inside was completely empty, Misha cleaned the empty shell, removing all the dirt and corrosion. The hardest part of that job turned out to be identifying the metal itself.




"Your recognize it?" Jon said in surprise. "We've been trying to identify it for a month."

"Exactly what type of metal is it?" Misha asked.

"This is aluminal," Will Hardy replied.

"Aluminal. That's a blood metal isn't it Will?" Misha asked. The badger nodded in agreement.

"What's a blood metal?" Jon asked.

"A blood metal is a metal used in the manufacture of weapons," the fox answered.

"That's very unusual. In this type of mechanism I would use brass. It's lighter, more durable and easier to work with," Will explained. "I only use small amounts of aluminal myself, mostly because it has a beautiful gray color when polished."

"What can we use to clean it Will," Misha asked.

The badger retrieved a small bottle from a shelf over his workbench and handed it to Misha.

"We're going to need a lot more. Where did you get this from?" Jon asked.

"From Pascal of course," came the answer.




"So, Pascal can you make us some of this cleaner you made for Will?" the fox asked.

"Of course, how much do you need, one, two ounces?" she asked.

"Oh, about five gallons," Misha said in a soft voice.

"WHAT?"




Misha dipped the end of the rag in the bottle several times to make sure he got a lot of cleaner. Then he continued cleaning the outside skin of the left shoulder. As the last layer of dirt came off, the rich, dark, gray of the original color came out.

He stopped cleaning and admired the now restored section of skin. "That's a beautiful color. I have to use aluminal in my next clock."




Large parts of the skin were too far gone with corrosion to be saved, and had to be replaced. That meant carefully cutting away the destroyed piece. Then a replacement had to be fashioned from a sheet of aluminal. The metal was so hard and strong that Misha had to take special measures.




Jon stepped outside the weapon smith's shop to cool off with Misha. In order to work the metal it had to be heated in a furnace. When it was hot enough, they had to hammer it repeatedly before it cooled too much. Problem was the metal needed to be heated to a far higher temperature than any one had expected. The heat from the furnace made the whole building unbearably hot. So the three restorers set the anvil up outside in the snow and worked there.

The stag looked at the fox, who was sprawled on the ground still recovering from heat prostration.

"You all right?" Jon asked.

The suffering canine nodded in reply, "Yeah, I'll be fine."

"Cheer up Misha, we're almost done. Just one more piece of the neck to do," Jon said in consolation.




The next part took the longest; reassembling the mechanism and making it work. Misha carefully examined every single piece of the mechanism, all nine hundred and twelve of them. Thankfully, unlike the skin they were made from brass or steel. The few steel pieces were long since reduced to useless lumps of rust, but many of the brass ones were in surprisingly good shape. Those he could reuse, but a little over four hundred were too bent, torn or broken to be of any good. Those he melted down and molded into new parts. Still, all told, the fox had to make by hand five hundred and ninety-three parts.

All these pieces had to be assembled into a working mechanism. That meant countless hours of screwing, gluing, filing, sanding, fittings and adjusting. It was arduous, exacting work that took a long time to complete.

The job wasn't done all at one time, Misha was constantly being interrupted, some interruptions were welcome, others weren't.




"Excuse me Sir Misha," the page said hesitantly.

The fox turned around and looked at the boy standing in the doorway, "Yes, what is it son."

The boy looked around in amazement, everywhere he looked there were all sorts of gears and rods. All laid out carefully, and neatly.

"Lord Thomas requests your presence in his audience chamber, Sir," the child said.

The fox sighed and put down the mechanism he had been working on. "Ok, tell Thomas I'm coming," he answered.




"Misha, you moved," Caroline said.

"I'm sorry honey, but I've been posing like this for over two hours and I'm starting to cramp up," he explained.

"All right, I get the hint, why don't we take a ten minute break," the otter suggested.

The fox relaxed his pose and stretched, "How's my portrait coming? Can I see it?" he asked.

Caroline waved the still wet brush at him, "No, not yet. You have to wait till it's done."

He touched the end of his nose and felt wet paint there. "You fink, you got paint on my nose," he said, surprised.

Carol giggled, "OH! I'm SO sorry! it was an accident of course," she said teasingly.

Misha dipped his fingers into a paint pot, and brought them out, dripping with red paint.

Caroline backed away slowly, "Now Misha, my love, put down the paint."

Splat!

"I suppose you think that's funny," she said. The two lovers came together in an embrace and kissed.




Misha walked up to Cutter's desk; the fox himself was seated there, reading a book.

"Sorry to bother you Cutter but can you help me with something?" he asked.

"Of course, what's the trouble?" the librarian replied, putting his book down.

Misha handed him a piece of paper with an emblem drawn on it. The symbol was of a tower on a hill with two lightening bolts underneath it. "I'm trying to identify this and I'm not having any luck."

Cutter took the paper and examined it for a moment before speaking, "you've tried 'Grey's Heraldry'?"

The scout nodded, "no luck," he replied.

"Hmmm, where did you see this?" the librarian queried.

"I found it stamped on the inside of that mechanical fox I'm restoring. I think it's the builder's heraldic emblem," came the answer.

"I have just the book you need, but I'll need your help carrying it," the scholar answered.

"Just how big is it?" Misha asked.

The book turned out to be two feet wide, three feet long and over a foot thick. It took both of them to carry it to a table and place it carefully in the middle.

Misha examined the book curiously. It was covered in a soft black leather and had no title, but embossed in the center was a life size human hand, palm up.

Cutter took the paper with the drawing on it and placed it in the hand on the cover of the book. As Misha, watched the hand closed around the paper. Then the book opened up to a certain page, and Misha could see a paragraph that was written in bright red ink. "That's fantastic Cutter! Where did you get that?" he asked in amazement.

His fellow fox just shrugged, "I found it here when I took over." The librarian leaned forward and started reading the red-letter words. "Grammont, Duchy of, 345 - 350. Extinct. Only ruler Vernosa I."

"What does it mean extinct?" Misha asked.

"It means that the duchy is gone, no longer in existence," was the answer.

"Is that all the info it has, nothing else?" the scout asked.

"It's a book of heraldry Misha, not history," Cutter explained.

"Well I at least have a name to work with, and I know my metal friend is over three hundred and fifty years old. That's more than I knew ten minutes ago," Misha said.

Cutter closed the tome, and the hand on the cover opened releasing the paper. He took it and gave it back to his friend.

As they were carrying the huge book back to its resting spot Cutter asked, "You ever hear of Grammont?"

"The name sounds vaguely familiar but I can't place it. I'll have to check through my notes back in my room. I have the feeling it's near Metamor though," was the answer.




"Well Carol, what do you think of it?" Misha asked anxiously.

"It looks beautiful, but it's missing something," Caroline replied. She picked up one of her small brushes and dipped it into some dark blue paint. With brush in hand she opened one of the eyes on the automaton and started painting.

"Carol! What are you doing? I just spent two weeks making those eyes and now you're painting them. That's gold leaf you're painting over," the fox shouted in panic.

Relax... I know what I'm doing. His eyes look so dull and lifeless, so I'm giving them a little life," she replied. After a few moments work she stood back and admired her work.

"He does look a lot better with those beautiful blue eyes," Misha said in surprise.

"They say the eyes are the windows to the soul," Carol responded.

He hugged and kissed her, "we make quite a team."




In his workshop Misha carefully placed the piece of metal skin on the bench. It was a piece of the skull, from the top, between the ears. From it's small mahogany case he took out a metal stamp.

Standing next to him on the bench a large metal fox stared at the craftsman as he picked up a small jewelers hammer. Misha carefully placed the engraved end of the stamp on the inside surface of the skin. He gave a sharp blow on the end of the stamp, permanently imprinting the skin. He examined the mark he had just made; a broad oak leaf with a fox head below it. That was his personal heraldic symbol. Misha picked up the section of skin and carefully screwed it into place on the skull. Finally, after two years of work on it, the automaton was finished.




chapter 4


Being the Duke had its bad points, but it also had its good points too. Like being able to keep up on what is happening. Duke Thomas walked into the apartment of his head scout after knocking and being asked in. The stallion had been here before but always on business. Not so this time. Today Thomas was here purely for relaxation, something he found all too little time for.

He moved quickly into the scout's workshop, and found a small group of people clustered around the workbench. He recognized Misha Brightleaf, Caroline Hardy, Charles Matthias, Lady Kimberly, Jon and Smithson the Keep antiquarians. The group bowed in respect, all except Misha, who nodded his head.

Misha came forward and looked at the Duke in surprise, "Lord Thomas! What a surprise to see you here. If I'd known you were coming I would have cleaned up a little, or at least put on a fresh shirt."

"Relax everybody, I'm here to see the mechanical figure you've been working on Misha," the duke said.

The fox brightened up immediately, "Certainly Thomas, I'd be glad to show you it." He pointed towards the workbench, and the group parted in front of him.

Thomas stepped up to the workbench and got a good look at Misha's workmanship.

Lying on the bench was a large metal fox, about the size of a wolf. It was a deep, rich smoky gray in color. The fox was laying down, with its eyes closed and head resting on the forelegs.

Thomas moved closer and he could see tiny gold whiskers sticking out of the muzzle, a gold nose and tiny gray claws in its paws. He noticed that the inside of the ears were lined in gold. "Misha, this is beautiful. You restored this by yourself?" He asked.

"Jon and Smithson did a lot of work on it too," Misha replied.

"You're too modest Misha. He did all the work on the insides," the stag said.

"Honey, let him see it operate," Caroline said.

Misha nodded and reached under the belly of the metal figure and the Duke heard a soft click. The scout touched the metal fox on the head. "Come on, wake up Madog. We have a distinguished guest," he said.

The metal animal opened it's eyes and looked around. The creature stared straight at the Duke who could see that it had dark blue eyes. Madog sat up on it's haunches and yawned, showing an impressive set of gold colored teeth. Then the automaton stood up on all four legs and shook itself.

"Now Madog, do you want to do a few tricks for the Duke?" Misha asked.

The metal fox nodded enthusiastically.

"Madog, sit!" the scout ordered. The mechanical animal responded by sitting on it's haunches. "That was great!" Misha said and rewarded his metal pet with a scratch between the ears. The metal fox closed it's eyes and wagged its tail in enjoyment.

"Now sit up and beg," came the order, and the automaton did so, balancing on it's two hind legs. "That's great Madog," he said and the animal dropped back down onto all four legs.

"Ok, Madog, I want you to shake hands with the Duke," the scout said. Madog brought his left front leg up and extended it out.

"Go ahead Thomas, shake hands. Don't worry about breaking anything. His body is extremely strong," Misha told the Duke.

Gingerly the stallion morph extended a hand and clasped the offered paw. It felt surprisingly warm to the touch, like a real animal's, not cold as he had expected. After a moment the paw dropped to the ground and Thomas let go.

"Now, Madog what does a person do when they meet a Duke?" Misha said.

The metal creature bowed down to the Duke and Thomas nodded his head in return. "Thank you Madog," he said.

Madog yawned exposing all those gold teeth again.

"Are you tired?" Misha asked the metal fox.

The mechanical animal nodded in agreement and yawned again.

"Ok Madog you've done a great job. You deserve a little nap," Misha said and petted the creature on the head.

Madog wagged his tail enjoying the petting. Then it laid down and the metal head came to rest on the forelegs. Those blue eyes closed and the automaton was back in the position it had started from.

"Misha, that's fantastic! I've never seen anything like it!" Thomas exclaimed.

"Thank you," came the reply.

"How did you get him to respond to your commands?" the Duke asked.

"I didn't. He's following a preset routine dictated by the gearing inside. All I did was figure out the pattern and invent my lines to match his movement," Misha explained.

"It was incredible, no matter how you did it," Thomas said.

Lady Kimberly reached out and gingerly touched the metal snout. "He's very beautiful. Why do you call him Madog?" she asked.

Misha shrugged, "It's his name I think. I found it carefully engraved on the inside of his skull."

"That's an odd name I've never heard it before," Kimberly commented.

"Very old too, and rarely used," Smithson said.

"Do you know who built it originally?" Duke Thomas inquired.

"The only clue I have is a heraldic symbol that was engraved next to his name. The symbol belonged to the small, short-lived Duchy of Grammont. Grammont it seems lasted only five years and had one ruler, Vernosa I," the fox explained.

The stallion thought for a moment before answering, "Hmm, never heard of it. When did it exist?"

"345 to 350. Those names sound familiar but I can't remember where I've heard them before," Misha said.

Jon shook his head, "We can't find single reference to it anywhere."

"That was a difficult time for Metamor. Duke Philip died under mysterious circumstances, and his only son Brian was illegitimate and didn't have any clear claim to the title. He had to win it in a duel," Thomas said.

"How can a Duchy only exist for five years?" Carol asked.

"It was probably some self-styled warlord who set himself up in his own little kingdom, and couldn't hold onto it," Misha suggested.

"Most likely. I'll have a look in the old family records, and see if there's any mention of it there," the Duke said.

"I'd be grateful for anything you can tell me, Lord Thomas," the fox said.

"I must admit, I'm curious myself as to who built it," Thomas commented.

"So am I," Carol added.

Thomas stared at the automaton for a moment. "It almost looks like he's asleep."

"It does at that," Smithson said.

"I would like to see Madog perform again please, Misha," The nobleman requested.

"Certainly my lord!" Misha responded with delight. "Now Madog, it's time to wake up. We have guests," he said and reached under the metal belly.




chapter 5


"The patrol has confirmed that the feud between the Long Knife and the Ripper tribes continues unabated. My best estimate of casualties is around one hundred and forty dead for each side.

"So far the fighting has been limited to small skirmishes and ambushes, but it does promise to become a full-fledged war in the near future. With our killing of a Ripper sub-chief two days ago the conflict has escalated. It seems Phil's plan to have the Long Knives blamed for the ambush has worked."

Misha put down the pen and flexed his hand to remove the stiffness. He was almost done, just a few more pages and he could send the report off to Phil and the Duke.

Clink.

Misha turned his head looking for the source of the strange noise, but couldn't find it.

Clink. The noise came again. Then he heard a scraping noise. He swiveled his ears about, trying to locate the sound. It was coming from the workshop. He stood and picked up the dagger that lay on top of the desk.

Moving slowly he approached the door to his workshop. He stepped into the room and looked around. Nothing seemed out of place until his eyes fell on the workbench. It was empty. The automaton was gone! Misha heard that scraping noise behind him. He started to turn around and caught a glimpse of a gray figure as it rushed at him. Something heavy slammed into his back knocking him down and stunning him. He was unconscious before his body hit the floor.




Charles Matthias moved along the hall at a quick pace. He was running late again as usual, too many things to do and not enough time to do them in. He could have just let Kee deliver a message for him but Charles wanted to do this himself. He needed the chance to relax, talk, and share a glass of wine with Misha. He always seemed to have the best wine and the tastiest cheese.

Charles stopped in front of Misha's door, which was standing half open. He knocked loudly on the frame several times, "Hello, Misha. It's Charles, are you there?"

There was no answer, just silence. Charles knocked again, a little harder this time. "Hello. Misha, it's me Charles, are you here?" he asked in a louder voice than before. The rat morph pushed the door all the way open and stuck his head inside.

The bed was empty and neatly made up, Misha's roll top desk was open and there were papers scattered about on it. By the window a planter full of bright flowers livened up the room. Charles smiled, "that has to be Caroline's influence," he thought to himself.

He looked towards the door to the workshop and saw a sight that made his blood run cold. Just barely poking into sight through the doorway was a pair of black paws lying on the flagstones.

Charles rushed over and found Misha sprawled on the floor just inside his workshop. He knelt down next to the fox and checked for a pulse. "Thank Goodness at least you're still alive," he muttered to himself.

The rat heard a whisper of a noise from the doorway and looked up just as a figure rushed at him. He lashed out with both hands and sent his attacker flying back into the other room. There was clattering and a crash from the bedroom as his assailant came to rest.

Crouching low the rat morph went after his attacker. Stepping through the door he looked in the direction the person must have landed.

The bed had been completely smashed to splinters. As he watched the remains shifted, and he got a good look at the person who had attacked both Misha and himself. A large gray metal fox stared at him.

"Madog," Charles said in shock. Gold lined metal ears pricked up at the mention of that name. The automaton Misha had shown Charles had moved slowly, and had repeated the same motions over and over again. It had been just an object, devoid of any real life. The creature staring at him now moved and acted like a living thing. The tailed wagged, the ears swiveled in all directions and the gold whiskers twitched. Whatever it was, Madog was no simple mechanical toy.

The creature regarded the rat for a moment as if deciding what to do. It shook its head and started to slowly walk towards the door to the hall. Madog seemed to move with a grace and a suppleness that reminded Charles of a real fox, not some clockwork creation. He also saw that it didn't seem to be the slightest bit damaged from the blow the rat had inflicted on it. A blow that would have smashed plate armor hadn't even scratched that gray skin.

"What are you?" Charles asked out loud.

The automaton paused briefly and looked at the confused rat. Those blue eyes seemed to sparkle with life and intelligence. "Not the one," it said in a quiet voice and shook it's head, "not the one."

"HUH? What do you mean, not the one?" the rat asked, confused.

He took a step towards Madog, and the creature bolted for the hall. In an instant it was through the door and out of sight. Charles rushed after it but the metal creation was gone by the time he reached the door.

The writer stood there and tried to decide what to do. He looked back to where Misha was lying. "Mercy first, then battle," he said to himself and quickly ran back to help his vulpine friend.




Rickkter closed the tome he had been looking at and placed it to one side. Picking up another book, he checked the index and started reading. The mage had been up all night doing research on a signet that he had found. So far he hadn't had much luck.

The raccoon morph shifted around in the chair trying to get comfortable. Having a three-foot tail had it problems. He'd only had it for a few days and he was still getting used to it. After a few moments he finally found a position that was comfortable and continued reading. Thankfully the library was empty at this hour of the morning, and he could work in peace.

The mage was partway done with the third page when he realized that this book didn't have what he needed. He let out a tired groan and snapped the book closed. Gathering up the ten books piled on the table he started down one of the aisle of bookshelves. "I'm really going to have to stop with these all-nighters, they're killing me," he mumbled to himself.

As he walked up and down the aisles Rickkter took various books he was carrying and put them back into their proper spots on the shelves. That was the one good thing about these all night sessions. He was really getting to know the library very well. The mage had reached the end of an a row when a gray vulpine head peered around the corner of a bookshelf.

Calmly placing the last two books on an open shelf Rickkter examined his companion. While he hadn't been at the keep very long the raccoon knew this wasn't one of his fellow keepers. He had never seen anything like what he was laying eyes on now.

Using his true sight he could detect all kinds of very powerful magic emanating from it. He tilted his head a little to the side. "What the hell are you?" the morph asked.

Madog didn't answer but just stared at him for a moment. Rickkter started to slowly back away from it. His warrior instincts were telling him something was seriously wrong. Subtle changes in the automaton's stance warned of what was to come.

Rickkter was expecting it, but when the attack came he was caught off guard by the automaton's blinding speed. He brought up his arms in a block a little too slowly and the metal monster slammed full into his chest.

The two fell to the floor together with Madog on top. It's metal teeth went for the morph's throat. The mage hit the automaton in the throat, just behind the jaw, forcing the head up and away from him. A jolt of electricity surged through his body and Rickkter screamed in pain just before he passed out.




Misha awoke to find someone rubbing his back. His whole body seemed to hurt and he had a monstrous headache. He opened his eyes and found he was lying on the floor of his bedroom.

A worried Matthias was looking at him, "How do you feel?" the rat asked.

"Like I've been run over by an elephant," Misha replied wearily. Gathering his strength he sat up. Pain shot up his spine and he yelped.

"Lay down, you need to go easy until Brian Coe can examine you," the rat morph said.

"What happened?" Misha asked.

Charles explained what had happened, about finding the fox sprawled on the floor and being attacked by the automaton.

"It couldn't be Madog, he's harmless," the fox said.

"I know what I saw Misha. How else do you explain that," Charles said and pointed to the smashed bed. "That's where it landed."

The fox closed his eyes and shook his head, "What is that thing? By all laws Madog shouldn't be wandering around attacking people. There was nothing that complex worked into his gearing. He's supposed to do a handful of preprogrammed tricks and that's all," Misha said.

"I don't know what it is either, but that wasn't a preprogrammed trick I saw today. Madog was definitely acting on it's own. That thing knew exactly what it was doing," Charles commented.

"You sent out the alarm?" Misha asked hopefully.

"Yes, by this time the whole keep is up in arms, looking for it," the rat replied.

"Well, that's a good start," the canine commented as Charles helped him to his feet. He looked around on the floor for his dagger but couldn't see it. "Have you see my dagger? I was holding it when Madog jumped me," the fox asked.

Matthias shook his head, "no I didn't see one laying around."

Misha shrugged, "it's probably lying under something. I'll find it later." He moved to a chest and after a few moments of rummaging inside, produced a long sword and a dagger.

"Where do we go now?" Charles asked.

"First we go find George and see what type of search he's started. Then we pay a visit to the armory and get some armor to even the odds against us," came the reply.

The rat morph nodded in agreement.

The two of them got only a short distance when they came upon Rickkter. The new Keeper was stalking the halls dressed in black leather. He was carrying a five-foot long staff, tipped with a two foot long steel blade, called a war staff. On his face was a homicidal expression that could melt stone with just a glance.

"Rickkter! What are you doing?" Misha asked.

"Hunting," came the reply.

"Hunting what?" the fox asked.

"I had a most unpleasant encounter in the library a little while ago," explained Rickkter. "I was attacked by some kind of mechanical creature."

"I wonder who else my little creation has attacked," he mumbled.

"I take that to mean you're to blame for that metal monstrosity," the raccoon asked in a cold voice.

"Yes," the fox replied and explained the story to him.

"Congratulations, you're the father of a brutal killing machine," Rickkter said sarcastically when the fox had finished.

Misha glared at the raccoon but didn't say anything.

"Instead of making stupid comments why don't you come up with a way to kill this thing," Matthias said in a low voice.

Rickkter looked at the rat for a moment before speaking, "Killing it won't be easy. This creature is very, very powerful."

"Just how powerful is it?" the rat asked.

"Powerful enough to kill any one of us in single combat," the raccoon replied.

Misha closed his eyes and shivered. "what have I done."

Matthias put his arm around the fox, "Don't blame yourself. This trap was set by a master mage."

"Any idea who that mage was?" Rickkter asked.

"I know his name, Vernosa. I think he was a minor noble in the area back in the three forties," the vulpine answered.

"That's all? I prefer to know my enemies," the raccoon said.

"This enemy has been dead for over three hundred years, Rick," Misha explained.

"It doesn't matter who created Madog," Matthias said. "We have to stop it."

"First we have to find him, and just wandering around the keep hoping to run into him won't work. There are several thousand rooms in the Keep, and countless miles of corridors and halls. Not to mention the fact that all of them keep moving around and changing," the fox commented.

Matthias spoke first, "It kept saying 'not the one'. Madog is after one person in particular. Obviously none of us is the real target or it wouldn't have left any of us alive."

"But who is Madog after?" Rickkter asked. "I can think of a dozen people it might have been ordered to kill. A rival wizard, an ex-lover, a political enemy."

Misha thought for a moment before answering. "Vernosa was a minor nobleman here in the pass. He tried to set himself up in his own little kingdom, so we know he had had aspirations of becoming a king. Too much effort went into creating Madog to waste him on an old lover. He was intended to kill some very important and well protected nobleman. Someone who stood in Vernosa's way," Misha commented.

"The Duke. Madog is after the Duke," Misha said in a quiet voice.

"You can't be sure of that," Charles countered.

"Oh yes I can," the fox countered. "In 341 the old duke died leaving no legitimate heirs, only a son by a maid. That son became Duke by killing his chief rival in a duel and exiling the rest. If he had died before having an heir Metamor would have been up for grabs."

"Makes sense, kill the duke and claim the throne for your self. I've seen it happen before," the warrior mage commented.

"I know how to catch him," the scout said. "We're going to set a trap for my metal friend. We know who he's going to come after. All we have to do is wait, and he'll come to us." he said.

"You want to use the Duke as bait?" Charles asked in shock.

The fox nodded.

Rickkter laughed, "Sounds like fun."




chapter 6


Rickkter, Matthias and Misha headed slowly down the hall. All three moved with care, checking every door, niche, and gallery they came to.

"I wish you could use your axe," Matthias commented.

Misha laughed, "Can you see me trying to swing that five foot long axe in this corridor?" The fox was dressed in chain mail armor. He was carrying a shield no bigger than a dinner plate; called a buckler in his right hand. In his left was a short sword.

The rat nodded in agreement, "shame, I think we'll need it's magic."

Rickkter scowled, "I still can't believe all you took was that tiny buckler, and a short sword."

The fox morph turned to say something but was interrupted by the ringing of a loud bell.

"ALARM! ALARM! POST TWO!" Someone shouted from down the corridor.

Misha muttered a curse as all three broke into a run.




Madog blended into the shadows so perfectly that the four soldiers marching past saw no trace of him. The automaton let them pass without attacking, he was too close to his target to be distracted.

He was in a large corridor lined with all sorts of works of art, some of them quite beautiful. There were a dozen of the large vases like the one he was hiding behind spaced along the walls. Alternating with the vases were life sized marble statues. Many of them were centuries old and masterpieces of artwork, but Madog paid little attention to them. All he had eyes for was his target, the Duke of Metamor.

His target was standing at the end of the corridor by a door marked with the ducal emblem. He was surrounded by four guards, all dressed in plate mail armor and carrying long swords and shields.

Moving slowly and staying close to the wall the mechanical creature slipped closer to the Duke. Stealthily he moved making not a sound and crept past a tall painted statue of a woman holding a lance and a book.

When he stopped it was behind another large vase identical to the first. There was barely ten feet separating him from the Duke. This was as close as he could get without being seen.

Madog stared at his enemy long and hard. In his mind he could picture himself pulling that haughty nobleman to the floor and ripping him to pieces. It had all preprogrammed into him by his builder and master; Vernosa.

First he would cripple the Duke by biting the hamstrings at the back of the legs. When the man fell down he would go for the neck, one strong bite would take off the head and kill him instantly. Then the automaton would sever all the limbs, and rip the entire corpse into many small pieces. Particular care was to be taken with the head. "Nothing recognizable must be left," those were the exact words used in the command.

The metal creature stood up and concentrated on the magic he needed. He opened his mouth and exhaled, a large cloud of smoke quickly started billowing from his mouth. It was thick, blinding and spread with frightening speed. In a few moments the corridor was completely fill with the blinding fog.

Madog could hear the guards shouting in alarm and he knew they were blinded by the smoke. The fog didn't bother Madog, his magically created sight allowed him to see the everything. It also allowed him to see the Duke clearly.

He bolted from his hiding spot, easily avoiding the sentries and headed straight for the his target. He sank his teeth into the man's left leg and the figure collapsed to the ground without uttering a sound. With his powerful jaws fulfilling the rest of the command took only a few moments.




The three keepers turned the corner and were greeted by a solid wall of fog. "Oh boy!" Misha muttered as they came to a halt.

"Did you know Madog could make fog?" Rickkter asked.

"No," the fox replied in a small voice.

"Terrific, what else can he do that we don't know about?" the raccoon asked.

Staying close together they moved cautiously into the fog. Misha gripped his sword a little tighter. He was completely blinded by the thick clouds. Although he was standing less than a foot from him, Misha could only make out the vaguest outline of Rickkter. Instead of his sight he had to rely on his sense of smell and hearing. It was times like this he really appreciated being a fox.

He could smell a faint scent of blood, and sweat in the air. There had been a fight here, within the last few minutes. Up ahead he heard a faint groan, and a he could barely see that a figure lay sprawled on the floor. All three keepers stopped at the same moment for the same reason; fear of an ambush. Those fears were well grounded.

None of them heard him coming. Suddenly a figure loomed out of the fog and rushed straight for Misha's throat. He barely had time to bring his buckler up before he was knocked to the ground. Madog was standing on his chest, teeth bared, snarling. Misha stabbed with his sword, going for the belly where all the important gears were. As the point struck home, Madog clamped his jaws on the shield and wrenched it from the fox's grip.

Rickkter loomed over both of them and drove the point of his war staff deep into Madog's neck. The automaton yelped in pain, swung it's head around and bit the end of the weapon off.

The raccoon dropped the now useless staff and drew out two long daggers. Madog leaped over Misha's head and vanished into the fog. Rickkter ran after in close pursuit. Misha stood up and followed close behind.

The fog suddenly thinned out and Madog was gone without a trace. "How does he do that?" Misha growled in frustration.

Rickkter shook his head, "I don't know, but it's a good trick." He looked around. "Where's the rat?" he asked.

"Too late," came the faint voice of the automaton from down the hall. "Duke already destroyed."

"Oh God, NO!" Misha whispered in horror.

The raccoon started down the hall after Madog. "That thing is mine," He shouted. Misha headed back into the fog to find Matthias and the Duke. He paused for a moment, "Rickkter, be careful. I don't want to loose a good friend."

"I have no intention of doing something bold and stupid. If I find this thing I'll send back word." Rickkter replied.

The fox watched as his new friend headed after Madog. Rickkter was arrogant and annoying at times but he was a good friend, and he'd hate to see him killed. Misha walked back into the fog to where Matthias and the Duke were, afraid of what he may find there.




The keep was in an uproar, soldiers with drawn weapons marched past Kimberly . Servants were rushing back and forth, and a lot of people were just milling around in confusion. There was talk of an attack on the Duke. Others whispered of some evil thing being loose in the castle killing people, and that Thomas himself had been horribly mangled.

The lady rat ignored all such talk as just wild gossip and continued on towards Father Hough's room. It took all her skill to keep her tray of food from being knocked from her grasp as she dodged the frantic crowds.

Madog followed her silently some paces behind. The hallway was too crowded and noisy. He would wait till she went into some quieter place and then strike.

The metal monster watched as she stopped in front of a door. The rat woman knocked then entered, leaving the door open behind her. Madog crept up to the door and slipped through.

Inside the room a small boy was seated on the edge of the bed drinking water from a brass cup. Seated next to him was Kimberly with a knife in one hand and a loaf of bread in the other. Both sat there in shock as they stared in shock at the automaton. Madog didn't hesitate but leaped straight at Hough, teeth bared.




chapter 7


Kimberly managed a short shriek before Madog hit Father Hough full in the chest. Both went tumbling backwards off the bed and out of her sight. She heard something crunch and then a terrible tearing sound.

"Father!" the horrified rat screamed. Without thinking she jumped over bed to save him, and stopped in confusion. The young boy lay sprawled on the floor seemingly unhurt with the metal animal straddling him.

Madog turned to look at Kimberly who suddenly realized she was facing a three hundred pound monster armed only with a bread knife. After staring at her for a moment the metal fox carefully backed away. She recognized the torn and crushed remains of the brass cup gripped in his teeth.

The fox lay down in a corner with his back to the wall. As the two astonished people watched the automaton proceeded to eat the cup. He carefully ripped off a piece of brass, then chewed and swallowed it like he was eating raw meat.

Hough stood up and looked at their unexpected dinner guest for a moment before sitting back down on the bed. "Wh-wh-what is that," he stuttered.

It looks like that mechanical fox Misha repaired," Kimberly said. She got up and walked over to the doorway and looked out into the hall. "Ok Misha, the joke is over," she said. She expected to find Charles and Misha crouched there, laughing, but the hall was empty.

"No one there, me not followed," Madog said proudly.

"Who's controlling you?" she asked sitting back down next to the boy.

"NO ONE!" the creature shouted. "I do all my commands and now I'm FREE!" he said with obvious delight.

"You mean that you're acting on your own?" Father Hough asked.

Madog answered with a nod of agreement.

The metal animal finished the last of the cup and looked in their direction. Kimberly looked at where he was staring and spotted a metal soup spoon laying at her feet. "I think he's still hungry," she said, and bent down and picked up the spoon.

She held the spoon at arms length and wiggled it a bit. "Here Madog, if you want it, you'll have to come and take it from my hand," the lady said in a calm voice. As she tempted the fox with the spoon, Kimberly told Hough about the party and the demonstration Misha had given. She also told him what she remembered of Misha finding the automaton and of Vernosa.

It took several minutes of coaxing but finally Madog crept closer and snatched the prize from her hand with a lightening fast strike. He immediately retreated several steps and proceeded to eat it in two swift bites.

"He acts just like a real animal," Hough commented. "I wonder. I've heard stories of mages trapping souls. Could this Vernosa have done something similar?"

"You mean there could be a real animal's soul trapped in there," she said in surprise.

The boy nodded, "It's evil magic, but it's been done before."

With the spoon devoured Madog started looking for more food. Kimberly offered up her knife. This time when he took the offer food, the automaton didn't retreat, but sat next to Kimberly and Hough as he ate.

"What are you?" the Father asked.

"I am Madog," was the enigmatic answer.

"That helps a lot," Kimberly said sarcastically. She noticed a long rip on the right side the automaton's neck. "How did you get this?" the lady asked.

Madog didn't answer but kept eating the knife.

Hough reached out, touched the fox on the muzzle and turned his head towards him. "Madog, this is a sword wound on your neck. How did you get it?" he asked.

The fox stopped eating and looked down at the floor. When he spoke it was in a very quiet voice, "I fight to escape after destroying the Duke."

"What did you do to Lord Thomas?" Hough asked in a voice tight with emotion.

The mechanical animal perked up and looked at the priest. "Who?" he asked.




Back at the scene of the battle Misha found confusion. At least twenty people were milling around in the fog. "ALL RIGHT PEOPLE! THIS ISN'T A PARTY!" He shouted at the top of his lungs. "Break it up, and go back to your posts. Sasha, get your people to open all the doors and windows and get rid of this smoke." That broke up the confusion and sent people running.

He surveyed the area where the fight had taken place. A discarded sword lay in the middle of the floor amid the shattered remains of a statue. Two of the guards were also laying on the floor having their wounds tended. There was no sign of Matthias or the Duke, dead or alive.

Misha walked up to one of the wounded. A maid was carefully tending to her broken arm. "Millie, what happened," he asked.

The woman shook her head, "I don't know. This fog suddenly appeared out of no where and rolled over us. I heard a crash, and the next thing I know I'm laying on the floor with a broken arm."

"Any sign of Matthias, or the Duke?" he asked.

"No, I didn't see either of them. Thomas wasn't even near here when this happened," was Millie's answer.

That puzzled Misha, "Are you sure about that?"

The guard nodded yes. "It was just the four of us here," she confirmed.

"We have to find Thomas, and make sure he's safe. Then we have to track down Madog," Misha said.

"Its nice to know you still care about me Misha," a voice said from behind the fox.

Misha spun around and saw The Duke and Matthias standing in the doorway.




chapter 8


"Thomas, Charles you're all right!" Misha shouted in delight and hugged the surprised stallion and rat. He wagged his finger at Charles, "Where have you been, I was worried."

"I thought it more important to be sure of the Duke's safety than to run off chasing that creature," the rat answered.

The fox nodded in agreement, "Good point." He turned to the Duke and looked him over. "Are you all right Thomas? Did he hurt you?" he asked.

The Duke shook his head, "I'm fine. It didn't come anywhere near me. As a matter of fact, I was several rooms away when it happened."

"He never touched you?" Misha queried.

"No, not so much as a scratch," came the reply.

"That's weird, I distinctly heard Madog claim he'd killed you," Misha commented.

"His exact words were that he had destroyed the Duke," Charles added.

The fox stroked his chin for a moment in thought before speaking. "He attacked the guards because they were in the way. Madog went after us because we were blocking his line of escape. If he didn't attack Thomas, and he didn't mistake someone else for the Duke, then exactly who did he destroy?" he asked.

Misha heard footsteps coming down the corridor and he turned to see Father Hough and Kimberly approaching. Hough bowed to the Duke and the lady curtsied.

"I can answer your question Misha," the boy said. He knelt down and picked up something off the floor. When he stood up Hough extended his hand towards the trio. Misha recognized the white stone object in his hand, it was a piece of an ear.

Realization flooded into him, "he attacked the statue?" the confused fox asked. He looked around and saw that pieces of it were scattered everywhere. He'd scarcely paid it any notice before.

Thomas let out a chuckle, "Of course he did. That was a statue of Brian the bastard. Don't you remember Misha? I told you about him when you demonstrated Madog."

"You see his orders were to destroy Duke Brian, nothing was said about any other Duke," Hough explained.

A sudden thought occurred to the fox, and he glared at Hough, "How do you know so much about what Madog's orders were?" he asked.

"That's easy, I asked him," the father explained, and motioned towards the floor behind his feet. "Come on out, you'll be safe with me," he said.

Nothing happened for a moment, but then a small gray metal head peered timidly from behind the boys legs. It was Madog.

"Hi," the automaton said in a timid voice.




chapter 9


"SILIENCE!" The Duke said in a loud voice. The arguing and bickering stopped immediately, and the throne room fell silent. With peace restored Thomas returned his gaze to the six people standing in front of him. "Continue with your explanation Misha," he said.

Misha looked at his companions. Jon looked nervous, but Smithson was calm. Madog seemed more interested the petting he was receiving from Lady Kimberly than in the goings on around him. Father Hough touched Misha on the shoulder and smiled.

The fox took a deep breath continued, "Lord Thomas, we had no way of knowing what Madog really was. We all thought he was just a very advanced, mechanical toy," he explained.

"It never occurred to any of you that to check for magic?" Wessex interrupted.

"Why? There weren't any clues that magic had been used. He looked completely normal," Smithson countered.

"Normal? You ever see a mechanical animal that could walk and move that didn't have magic at its heart?" Wessex queried.

"Yes!" all three keepers answered in unison.

"I find that hard to believe," Wessex commented out loud. Misha noticed many people in the room nod in agreement, including the Duke himself.

"My Lord, when I was twenty I was able to view the great swan of Maldan Hall," Misha said. "This swan was crafted life size from pure silver, and floated on a small pond of mercury. When a button was pushed it would seemingly come to life. It would flap its wings, and wiggle its tail feathers. Then it would scan the pond and then stick it's head under the surface for a moment. When the swan's head came back up a small silver fish could be seen wiggling in the beak. Then that silver head would tilt back and the fish would disappear down its throat."

"With that meal gone the silver bird would go back to searching the pond for another meal. Sometimes it would bring up a fish, other times a frog or a plant. It was spectacular to watch and it was all done with gears and springs like those in Madog. There was no magic involved," Misha finished.

"Three hundred years ago automatons were all the rage. It made sense that someone might try to curry favor with such an expensive gift," Jon said. Smithson and Misha nodded in agreement.

"What about the person who made it, have you found out anything?" Thomas asked.

"A little. He was a petty nobleman who had dreams of becoming the Duke himself. It seems he created Madog specifically to kill Duke Brian and pave the way for his own coup d'etat," came Smithson's reply.

"This mechanical contrivance is too dangerous. It has to be destroyed," a voice called out from behind Misha. He turned to locate the source, it was Rickkter.

By the look on his face the raccoon was not in the most pleasant of moods. He'd found the time to fully equip himself with weapons and armor. He was currently wearing a leather cape and cowl over his tunic and on his wrists were his magic bracers. The warrior mage was loaded down with many weapons. He had his mini-crossbow, a matching pair of very large throwing knives and of course his trusted wakinzashi and katana.

The katana was unsheathed and his arms were folded across his chest as he glared malevolently at the automaton. Evidently he really didn't trust this thing and he wasn't about to let it get another chance to surprise him.

He wasn't alone in that fear. There were forty guards in the chamber, all of them dressed in plate mail armor and a great shield. Long swords were gripped in their hands and maces hung from their belts. They were ready for war. Also present besides Wessex were five lesser mages. All the Long Scouts not out on patrol were there too, fully equipped for battle. All told it was an impressive show of force. Unfortunately it's intended audience didn't seemed to be impressed. Madog didn't look frightened in the least.

"Thomas, look at this," Rickkter said and held at arms length his war staff, or what was left of it. "Take a good look. The shaft of this was ironwood and heavily enchanted to prevent breakage and add strength." The raccoon held up the staff for all to see. The end had been completely shattered and was nothing more than splinters. "That thing did this with it's teeth. One bite, quick as lightening." He lowered the staff. "I don't think I have to go and remind anyone what it did to an entire marble statue in the space of a few seconds."

Rickkter pointed to Madog, "that killing machine has to be destroyed before it can cause any more harm."

"Having been repaired by someone who was ignorant of the truth, there is no telling just how stable the spells in it are. There's no way to judge what it will do next," Wessex said out loud.

Misha bristled at that remark. It made him look like a stupid oaf meddling in things he didn't understand. "I don't like your choice of words Mage," he said in a low tone. "No one could have suspected what he really was, not even a mage. The magic was too well hidden."

"Oh now you're an expert on magic," Wessex replied sarcastically. "The facts are that your creation attacked seven people and tried to kill the Duke."

Hough stepped forward, "he had no choice, he was acting under control of a spell cast by Vernosa," the boy said loudly. "Now he's free of that and his true soul is in control."

"SOUL?" Wessex said incredulous, "that's just a complex machine full of gears and wheels, powered by magic. Nothing else. That thing no more has a soul then my shoes."

Hough's face turned red as an apple, and he exploded in anger, "HOW DARE YOU! HOW DARE YOU! WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT SOULS!" he screamed, hiswhole body shaking with rage.

"My whole life is dedicated to saving souls," the priest said in a slightly calmer tone of voice. "Madog is one of Eli's creations just as we all are and deserves a second chance at life."

Misha looked down at the metal fox and found him staring at Hough in fascination. The metal creature must have sensed the scrutiny because he looked up at Misha with those blue eyes. "I wonder what you're thinking," Misha said to himself.

"Lord Thomas, such magic compulsion and control is too common an occurrence for Wessex and Rickkter to ignore. If Madog was truly acting under control of a spell, then he can't be held responsible for what happened," Matthias said. Misha noticed that unlike everyone else, the rat carried neither weapon nor armor.

"But how can he have a soul? Madog was built by a person in a workshop, not by a god," Posti injected.

Hough shrugged, "Who knows what magic Vernosa used to create Madog? My feeling is that the soul of a real fox resides in that metal body."

"Is that possible?" Thomas asked.

"It is," Rickkter said in a quiet voice.

Duke Thomas looked at Raven the Lightbringer. "You've been quiet so far, what do you have to say on this whole business?"

The wolf morph stared at Madog for a moment before answering, "he does have a soul, but whether it is good or evil I cannot tell. Much about him is hidden from me by potent magic."

"How do we know that Madog isn't evil? Just because the magic binding has been removed doesn't mean he has to good," commented Rickkter. "He could have the soul of a raving madman."

"Madog has the soul of an innocent animal," Hough insisted.

"He may have been innocent to start with," retorted Rickkter, "but that was before Vernosa corrupted him for his own uses."

"And who would know more about being a remorseless killer than you?" Matthias asked. Rickkter glared at the rat but didn't reply.

Misha paid no attention to the argument going on. He knelt down and placed his axe on the floor. Taking off his gauntlets he patted Madog on the head softly with his bare hand. The creature felt warm and alive to his touch. Madog leaned onto Misha's leg, and was obviously enjoying the attention. "I don't care what Rickkter or Wessex say. You have a soul, and it's not some madman's," Misha thought to himself.

"What are you Madog," he said in a whisper. "You certainly are more than just a collection of metal parts, but you're not a fox either. You're too smart for that. Maybe you're a little bit of everything, bits of animal, mechanical, and magic all mixed together."

He laughed a little as something from childhood came to him. "What are little boys made of? Why snips & snails and puppy dog tails. That's what good little boys are made of," Misha said reciting an old nursery rhyme. "I wonder what you're made of my metal friend?" After a moment of thought he reached a decision.

Misha grasped his axe and stood up. The fox rapped on the pavement three times with his weapon and the room fell silent instantly. "Lord Thomas, I will insure the good behavior of the person known as Madog. I swear that I will guide and protect him, and show him how to lead a long and productive life. This I swear with my own life," he said solemnly.

"Do you realize what you are saying?" Thomas asked.

"Yes my lord. I brought Madog back into this world so I feel responsible for him. But more so I believe that Father Hough is right, Madog is a good soul, who need protection and guidance."

"Lord Thomas, the fox doesn't seem to realize what that thing really is," Wessex said. "It's a homicidal, killer, and it can't be trusted."

Misha gave a little yip of laughter, "I seem to remember you saying the same thing about me some six years ago, Wessex. You were wrong then, and you're wrong now."

The mage stiffened and his eyes narrowed, "you broke my right arm in two places, all because I asked a simple little question."

Misha flattened his ears and pulled his lip back in a snarl, "I warned you three times, but you wouldn't listen. I don't like mages poking into my private business."

Wessex started to say something but the Duke hushed him with a wave of the hand. "I won't see that old argument brought back," he said. "This subject is more complicated than it first appears. Both sides have made good arguments, but Hough and Misha are right. If there is a chance that this creature," Thomas said pointing at Madog, "is innocent, and just a victim of magic we must give him the benefit of the doubt."

Thomas nodded, "All right Misha, I grant your request, but only for one week. He is to be kept under constant, heavy guard the whole time and I want Madog examined thoroughly. At the end of that period I want a full report. Then I will decide if it is to be allowed to live or not."

Misha bowed deeply, "Yes Lord Thomas,"

Thomas surveyed the audience. "Does anyone have wish to dispute my decision?" he asked in a cold, no nonsense tone.

No one spoke up. Wessex reluctantly shook his head. Rickkter wore a seething expression on his face and had to bite his lip to keep quiet. Both were clearly unhappy with the Dukes decision but had the wisdom not to argue the point.

The Duke stood up ,"Good, this session is now dismissed."



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"Snips and Snails", copyright Chris O'kane