Leaping and careening through the halls, Madog evaded the child, deliberately slowing down now and then only to speed up again until he finally stopped and slumped.
“Gotcha!” The boy shouted in triumph, tagging the automation’s tail.
Madog moved slightly with the impact and slumped further, gradually, until he lay on his side, curled up in a ball.
“Madog?” The child asked, at first in confusion but then again with worry, “Madog? Madog?!”
Only silence answered him. The metal fox didn’t budge an inch. Larry waited and waited, expecting him to leap up and surprise him but as the minutes trickled by, Madog continued to lie prostrate.
“Madog, please wake up? Please?”
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t help him! I didn’t do it! Please!” He whimpered. The boy was huddled over the still form of Madog. The automation was sprawled on the floor of the hallway..
“It’s not your fault.” Misha answered and patted the boy on his back. “Now calm down and tell me what happened.”
“He stopped.” The child answered without looking at Misha. His eyes were fixed on Madog.
“That’s all? Did he say something, do something?” Misha asked.
“No! He was running around and playing like he always does... then he... just stopped.”
“Hmmm.” the fox looked Madog over. “I don’t see any damage.”
“Please...” The child asked, “Please make him wake up...”
Caroline crouched down and pulled the boy into a hug. “It’s not his fault. I am sure of that. We just need to figure out what happened.”
Misha stroked the automation's muzzle. Madog remained motionless. His eyes were open and gazing into nowhere. There didn't seem to be any damage.
“It’s like his mind just shut down.” Misha said.
“Could his soul have been... removed?” Caroline asked.
“No, not removed more like he is asleep. Like when he was first found," Misha explained. "But first I need to get Madog to my workshop."
It took five people to lift him, with the support of a pulley. He was placed on a small wagon and hurriedly pulled to Misha's workshop.
The fox turned to his work bench and retrieved tools of various types and sizes. “I'm going to open him up and look at his gearing inside."
Misha slowly and carefully removed the metal plates that up Madog's side. Each plate was carefully placed on the workbench. He peered into the innards of the mechanical fox for a long time. Caroline looked over his shoulder and saw that Madog's innards were packed with a confusing array of gears, rods and all manner of strange objects.
“Nothing looks wrong but he has definitely shut down. Gone to sleep so to speak," Misha said without looking up.
“Can you make him wake up?” the boy asked.
Misha nodded. “Of course. I just need to find out why he went to sleep. And that will take a while."
Caroline stood up and stretched her tail. “Can Teria help?”
Misha shrugged. “Perhaps. I certainly cannot have Rickkter looking at Madog too closely but I don't trust her either when it comes to Automaton magic."
"I found it!" Misha shouted triumphantly. In his left hand he held a small complex looking bronze object. It seemed to be all gears, wheels and springs. "I found the broken part!"
"That's great honey!" Carline said cheerfully. "What is it exactly?"
"It's hard to explain without getting into too many details. It stores energy that's been generated till Madog needs it to move," the fox explained. "It's similar to the main spring on a clock. You tighten the spring by winding and the mechanism slowly unwinds the spring as needed to release the energy."
Caroline nodded slowly. "I see. Can you fix it?" she asked.
"Of course I can," Misha answered proudly. "I rebuilt him once I can do it again! The hard part was finding out what was wrong! Now to make and install the new part and put Madog back together," Misha said cheerfully.
"How long will that take? When can you repair him?" Caroline asked looking at the room around them. The many parts of Madog lay scattered on the workshop in front of them and the table to his left and the one behind. Even more were neatly arraigned on shelves all around the room.
"Ah . . " Misha stuttered. "Eventually," he said in a small voice.
“Are you sure this is such a good idea?” Rickkter asked in a sceptical tone.
"Do you have a better one?" Misha counted as he finished attaching the last of Madog's skin. “I’m not going to let my friend here sleep when I can do something to help him.”
“Hey, I just spend six months asleep,” the racoon mage groused as he looked over the subject of their work. The two were sequestered in Misha's workshop. With the only door locked. Rickkter had already raised several powerful wards isolating the room in case something nasty happened.
"Trust me, this will work!"
"Famous last words," Rickkter muttered.
Laying on the workbench in front of them was Madog. The mechanical fox was laying on one side and in one piece. There was one very large addition to him. Protruding from Madog’s left side was a large, bronze, butterfly shaped key. Like the keys used to wind up the clocks Misha crafted except a lot larger.
"I've used these countless times," Misha said. He took hold of the key and started to slowly wind it. "I've made hundreds of clocks and automaton toys using a wind up spring."
Misha gave the key one last turn and then stopped. There was a loud click and Madog sprang to life. "PAPA!PAPA!PAPA!PAPA!PAPA!PAPA!PAPA!PAPA!"Madog shouted excitedly as he danced around on the workbench.
“I think you overwound him!” Rickkter commented sarcastically.
Misha grabbed Madog's muzzle and the automaton stopped instantly. "It's good to see you up and about Madog. How do you feel?"
"Funny Papa. I go asleep suddenly. Wake up here," he then seemed to notice the large winding key sticking out of his side. His eyes widened. "OH! Shiny!"
"Do not touch the key," Misha ordered and tapped the key with one hand. "When you start to move slowly someone needs to wind that up for you."
"Why?" Madog asked. "Me never have key before."
"A part inside you broke and I have to fix it. Till then you need that key to be wound up every so often. You're not going to eat that key right?"
"No Papa I won't," Madog said still looking at the key with rapt fascination.
"I give him two days, then he eats the key," Rickkter commented.
"I say three," Misha answered. "And I'll bet you five coins."
Rickkter shook the fox’s hand. "You have a bet! I hope you made several of those keys."
Misha opened a cabinet door revealing no less then twelve keys all like the one already attached to Madog.
"GIVE ME THAT BACK!" came the shout from down the corridor. It was followed by a long string or curses in several languages.
"That's Rickkter's voice," Caroline said. Caroline and Misha were seated in one of the many small gardens that Metamor Keep had. The two were cuddled close on a bench enjoying the view and each other.
A door flew open and Madog ran through and into the garden. Clamped securely in his jaws was a sword. A large katana. In seconds the automaton raced across the garden and through another doorway.
Seconds later Rickkter raced into view with a large club in hand. "Where is he?" the racoon asked with his lips pulled back in a snarl.
"Slow Poke!" came Madog's voice. The automaton was standing in the doorway. The weapon still in his mouth.
Rickkter let out a long string of curses in a wide assortment of languages. "Give me my katana back!" he raced towards Madog who disappeared from sight. "You'd better not get any teeth marks on that!" Rickkter shouted before he too vanished into the doorway.
"It's good to have Rickkter back," Caroline said calmly.
"Yes it is!" Misha answered. "Madog is certainly happy to have him back."
Misha looked again at the complex mechanism resting on the workbench in front of him. Making the new part was hard but not as difficult as Misha had expected. He had learned a lot from all the previous work he had done on Madog and since then he had been experimenting and tinkering.
It had taken weeks of laboriously moulding and casting to make the thirty seven parts that made up the broken mechanism. Thankfully many of the parts were the same as those in other areas of Madog and Misha already had the needed moulds. Each part was unique and not all of them could be made of the same material. That meant four separate alloys each consisting of a dozen different metals and minerals mixed to very specific standards. But Misha had already made up the needed alloys months before just in case he did need them. So all Misha had to do was remove four small metal bars from the locked and warded safe in his workshop and he had the needed alloys. That saved him weeks of work.
Then he had to spend time filing and sanding the parts to remove any imperfections. It took a full month to enchant all the parts with the needed symbols and magic. Assembling the parts in the completed mechanism took only a few hours. Testing it took a week. All the work was finally done and the new mechanism resting in front of him. Now all that was left was installing it.
The vulpine had high hopes and eagerly approached Madog, who was busy eating his fifth key. To Misha’s surprise, Madog pawed him away, shy he scurried under the work bench, his tail curled around him.
“Madog what’s wrong? Get out from under there!”
“Nuh-uh.” Madog shook his head. "No!"
“Madog, what’s wrong? Tell me.”
“Me don’t wanna turn off again.” He mumbled and shook his head.
“It’s just for a short time Madog, like a nap," Misha countered.
“No!” The metal fox shouted, “No papa, no nap!”
“Why not? Sleep is good.” Misha answered.
Madog looked at the ground and whimpered softly, “Scary.”
This argument was getting nowhere. He sighed loudly. “All right! No nap for you Madog.”
The automation emerged from under the bench, tail wagging and licked the Long scout several times.
Misha hugged him. “Of course this does complicate things a little...”
“You are mad, you realise?” Finbar pointed out.
"You just figured that out?" Georgette added.
“Oh, hush, both of you,” The fox snapped. "This will work!"
"I've heard that before," Finbar commented. "I still have the scars from it."
"You worry too much," Georgette said sarcastically. "What's a little explosion and burning clothing among friends."
Misha just scowled at the two scouts. "This will work! The rope will take up the pressure needed to keep Madog working. While you hold the rope taut I'll take out the old part and install the new one."
"That sounds so simple," Caroline said cheerfully. "What can go wrong?"
"You really don't want to know. But you should be safe so long as you stay at a distance."
"The further the better," Finbar growled.
"Where should we stand?" Caroline asked.
"How about Sathmore," Finbar muttered under his breath.
Misha shot the ferret a cold, hard glance."You're not making this any easier."
The concept seemed simple. The rope was attached to inside Madog. So long as tension was kept on it and the parts it was attached to Madog would stay awake and alert. But keeping his friend awake with a rope had its complications, to say the least. They could not seal off the workshop so for safety reasons, a maintenance shed near the stables, in the Keep proper had to suffice. It was safe, within the curtain walls, in view of the second gate but also far enough from the castle that should things take a turn for the worse, the shed would be reduced to a smoking crater but otherwise the vicinity would be spared.
It took the better half of an hour before he’d finally managed to thread the rope correctly around the gears and get them to turn properly without jamming them or just sliding through. Misha’s whole body was sore with the strain and he still held several components in place with his hands and nose.
Slowly but surely he managed to swap out the large box and the even larger key, with the rope. Misha yelped, having pinched his fingers on the cogs and then pulled himself free.
“Go! TELL THEM TO GO!” The fox shouted out the door of the shed.
The rope suddenly pulled taught and almost tugged the systems of pullies out of the ceiling, the pullies in turn pulled on Madog, who began to slide off the work bench but only just.
“Papa! I’m a yoyo!” Madog exclaimed, fidgeting up and down with the friction of the pulley.
“Try to relax, we’ll need to work quickly before they get tired out there and...” He sighed, “I can smell rain.”
He finally removed the last minute screw and lifted up a large panel revealing yet more gears and cogs only these weren’t gradually rotating and knitting like a mechanical heart beat, they were spinning at an alarming speed.
“Careful! Those gears will suck you in and grind your flesh and bones!”
The fox nodded, “Yup, it’s sure to do some massive damage to the components, not to mention the blood I’d get all over it.”
“Typical Mage.” Caroline sighed.
True to his word, Misha didn’t mingle with the small gears, they were obviously in working order, yet he had to work unnervingly close, at times risking the loss of his fur, which in turn would risk sucking in the rest of his arm, as Caroline constantly pointed out.
“C... Caroline?” He whimpered, “Have you seen that diagram I drew?”
“Yes...” She began and gave cursory glance to retrieve it, “Do you want it?”
“Please... I forgot where half of this goes!”
Minutes slowly dragged into hours. Misha panted and his hands trembled threatening to drop a tool in the works. But he could not stop to rest.
“Pa...” Madog said.
“Madog? ...MADOG?!” Misha shouted and looked at the pulley, “The rope! Pull the rope faster!!!”
“Misha!” Caroline demanded, “Everyone’s tired, you must finish now, I can taste rain droplets on my nose.”
Misha let out a string of curses and bent over the prostrate form of Madog. For the next few minutes he didn't look up and he didn't slow down. The new part had nine rods, three levers, eight springs and twenty two screws that all had to be correctly connected and adjusted.
"May I help you?" Rickkter asked.
Misha looked up from Madog. The racoon mage was standing in the doorway. "Why would you want to help? You hate Madog."
"Why? It has nothing to do with Madog. I want to help a friend."
Misha looked intently at his friend trying to understand the racoon's true intentions but all he found was the deep mystery that was Rickkter. It all came down to one question; did Misha trust Rickkter. The racoon had been a constant string of questions and doubt since he had arrived. But he had never betrayed the keep and certainly been a good friend.
"All right," Misha answered. "I really need your help to get this done fast."
A crack of thunder and a flash of lightening outside lit up the entire area.
"Very fast!" Rickkter added.
"Use the soldering iron," the fox said and touched three spots inside Madog. "On those three spots. I'll work on the rest."
"Do you need to enchant the new part?" Rickkter asked as he picked up the soldering iron by the handle.
"Only one small activation spell," Misha asked without looking up from his work. "The more dangerous spells I already cast."
The racoon nodded. "Shame. I wanted to see more of that magic."
The two worked quickly attaching, screwing, soldering and gluing a seemingly endless number of places. Lightning flashed and thunder crashed and roared all about.
"Do you have any protection against lightning?" Rickkter asked without stopping.
"No," Misha answered also without stopping. "I didn't think it would rain.
Slowly the two finished off the needed points till only Misha was working and then it was on the last and most complex connection.
Unable to help anymore Rickkter just stood back and watched his friend working with a fast and steady pace.
After a long time the final connection was made and he let out a sigh of relief. Misha tapped the newly installed part with a finger and it started to hum ever so faintly. "DONE!" he shouted, trying to be heard over the approaching storm. The cable went slack and he heard people cheering outside.
"Get inside now!" he heard Caroline order.
Before even so much as a moment, all sight and sound became white and then he hit the ground hard.
The fox groaned and tried to sit up. He didn’t know what happened but somehow knew he was lucky to be alive...
“Caroline... you okay love? Caroline? Caroline?”
“I’m fine.” She mumbled, “You broke my fall.”
“I was wondering what this thing was,” Misha mumbled into the thick tail resting on his nose. “Madog!” He shouted and shot up, “Madog!”
He looked about the workbench, the pulley had been ripped from the ceiling, it was utterly shattered and the rope was in flames... he could see no sign of the automation.
Misha spun about and found the metal fox standing on all fours, safe and whole.
"Ah choo!" Madog sneezed and a bolt of electricity shot out from his mouth and struck Rickkter on the tip of his tail.
Rickkter let out a string of curses then gave Madog a glowering stare.
"Well. All we need to do is put his outer plating back on, " Misha said slowly. "I think I'll use the wooden tools for that."
Larry was bored. The boy just did not feel like playing with anyone. So he sat on the steps in the garden and did nothing. A featureless metal ball suddenly rolled into view and stopped at his feet.
The boy looks at the ball in surprise. Only one person he knew had a ball like that! Then he looks around. "Madog?"
He almost screamed when something poked his hand. Turning he saw a metal muzzle nuzzling there.
"Madog!" The boy threw his arms around Madog. "You're back!"
"Let's play!" Madog said cheerfully.