Flowered Metal | 7

“What do you think they’re doing?” Haiafe asked as he kept his hands tight on the fishing boat’s paddles. “Do you think they’re demons?” The fox-kin man was large and muscular, his bow discarded on the peddle rack just inside the boat’s lip. His amber eyes watched metal spiders crawl along the bank as they began to tear out their new structure. Most of all, he kept one wary eye upon the large monolith spider with the strange head.

“Do you not understand the meaning of silence, Brother?” Syfa hissed under her breath. Her long auburn hair was tied off to the side and it came to a rest on her left breast. “If you keep talking, I’m going to throw you into the lake.” She loved her brother, the big oaf. Yet, he kept testing her patience today. Ever since the strange beings appeared on top of the sealed metal temple. All because they were shaped like spiders.

“I just wanted your –” Haiafe was silenced as Syfa whacked him over the head with her staff.

“Little Brother, do not test me today,” Syfa shot him a glare. “The ancient temple has been opened! It has rested here since before our clan had settled this valley, and in our generation, it has opened. You are our strongest warrior within the village right now, I need you to step up to that right now.” Her pupils narrowed and her large little brother – who was nearly double her height just over 6ft – shrunk inwardly.

“Yes, Eldest Sister,” Haiafe murmured with a hurt look. At the sight, Syfa’s jaw set as guilt began to creep in. The boy was only 15 winters old – it was easy to forget. Syfa had lived more than 26 winters, and experienced the world outside. Syfa finally let out a resigned sigh.

“I am sorry for that,” Syfa said as she turned back to the strange beings on the shore ahead. “But this is bigger than all of us! Keep your tongue and I won’t throw you into the water to make you swim home.” She had to step back. Haiafe was not a bright boy either and was more gentle than any other soul in the village. Which was why it was frustrating to take him anywhere if there was danger.

“Yes, Eldest Sister…” Haiafe murmured. His words lost in the symphony of screaming machinery on the shore.

Syfa quickly forgot her mopping little brother as the beings began to haul thick square poles into place. The air was filled with the scent of freshly cut pine wood. She wondered what they would do with it. As if to answer her silent question, they began to rip away the metal floor they had created. The screams of metal filled the air as sparks flew, and just as quickly as it’d been cut away, the boards took their place.

Even made from alloy, the beings were beautiful in their own right. They worked with great strength silently and without pause. It was strangely attractive. If she could work like that, she could do her experiments back to back. Though, she wondered if they had to sleep some time. The Hikari tribe had already been watching them four three days. Yesterday had been the first time her father had allowed them to float out into the lake.

And today, he’d okayed them getting closer.  Haiafe didn’t want to get any closer than here, though he’d only gotten on the boat to watch because he wanted to protect his sister more than he feared spiders. Syfa smiled at how sweet the big oaf was. She’d teach him how to be a man before he found a wife. A little more courage and he’d be the best mate for whoever came.

The dull thumping of woods begun to fill the air, the spider beings were setting the logs into a sort of pier. Afterward, two more of them came along and began to spike metal into the platform. Loud pops filled the air as they brought their heads down on the wood. They followed closely behind the group setting the lumber.

It happened. The largest of the being, more than 10 times the size of the others moved. Its body, colored black with several spots of rust, moved onto the new wood platform. The spider beings wordlessly scampered around and under it to tear away the metal. Syfa wanted some of that metal. They had no mining operations like the humans to the south, and they relied on trading with the merchants that some times came out.

Before Syfa knew it, an hour had slipped by as the dawn slipped away. Her brother, less scared than before, was leaned over the side running his hand through the crystal water. Syfa watched with great interest as the final log had been placed, and the mammoth-sized being began to walk back and ford on it.

Once done, the spiders piled into the cave that led into the ancient temple. Several moments later, they began returned with large metal pots filled with…

“Night Greens!” Syfa gasped out loud. “They have Night Greens!” The sudden outburst made her brother recoil from the water and instinctively reach for his bow. By the time the bow was in his grip, his mind caught up.

“Night Greens?” Haiafe asked.

“The green glowing lilies I used for brewing potions!” Syfa whirled on her brother, rocking the boat side to side. “They’re used in greater mana potions! If we can get those, and I can make just five of those potions, we can pay for our rations for the coming winter!” Syfa could already see the value being slowly added onto that pier. Just five flowers would do. And if she failed all but one, that would still pay for a good portion of their rations.

“Eldest Sister!” Haiafe cried. “We can’t go over there! They’re dangerous–”

“And?” Syfa leaned closer, her small petite nose nearly touching his large nose. “You said it last month. The animals are disappearing from our forests and more poachers are getting past the human fort downstream. Our hunters came empty-handed more often than not! I have to go over there. I will try to bargain with him. I have too.”

Haiafe tanned skin paled, nearly as pale as his sister’s. “No, no no! I know that look!” He said. “You’re going to get us in trouble! Father hasn’t given us permission to go to their side of the lake! He wouldn’t allow you over there before they appeared, he’s not going to do it now either!”

Syfa’s lovely ember eyes narrowed dangerously, and he gulped his protest down. He may have been stronger, far, far stronger than his sister; but they both knew he wouldn’t hurt her. Even if she tried to burn him with a fireball. Now she had that look that told him she had already made up her mind.

“I will go over there, without you or not,” Syfa said with even words. Haiafe could only shake his head in protest. He dropped his bow and began reaching for the paddles. His sister beat him to them. Her small hands were dwarfed by his large ones, but he tried to delicately pull her off. It was no use. Knowing he wouldn’t put his back into it, Syfa would never budge from it. Haiafe hated that she knew him so well.

In his frustration, he stood up on the boat to turn around. He would grab something else to pry those paddles from her. He knew there was something they remove the metal rings that attached them to the boat’s rim. That had been his fatal mistake.

“Remember what I said earlier? About making you swim home?” Syfa said menacingly. Haiafe tensed up, and before he could respond. Small hands thumped into his back and the boat tipped. The water came up to greet him as he stumbled forward with flailing arms. Water geysered up from where he’d fallen in.

By the time the last drop had rejoined the lake, Syfa was already paddling towards the ancient temple.

 

—¦—

 

Very few things made Syfa reflect on her actions. The time she’d left home for a new life. The time she fell in love with a human. The time she had almost lost her little brother in the forest. And this moment, as the monolithic monster loomed over her in her dwarf of a boat. It cast a great shadow over her as the boat tapped against the support beams.

A ring of blue light shone through the black glass as three short pipes were pointed down at her.

“Greetings!” Syfa held her hands up as the boat came to a stop. The paddles slid down before being caught by carved hooks on its ends caught the metal rings that held it. “I bear you no ill will!” The metal being above her had several spots of rust, but they were surface damage only.

The smaller spider-like beings ignored them as they scurried across the wooden pier, to and forth from the newly made clearing at the end. They were carrying smaller blanks of wood into the darkness of the temple’s entrance. While Syfa tried to appear calm, she felt her slight tremble. She hadn’t expected the being to be this large.

A deep distorted sound bellowed from the thing before her. She flinched slightly. It sounded like a deep warhorn, but not one at the same time. One of the passing spiders threw its cargo onto the pier and scurried over. It scaled the mammoth’s rear leg before it crawled onto its back. Some sounded out, and then a hatch opened at the top. The spider crawled half in.

A few minutes passed by in strange silence. Syfa didn’t know what to make of it, but she could tell that something was happening. Thus, her village renown curiosity overshadowed her trepidation. A few more minutes later, the light in the black glass died for a second before it came back. The spider on its back crawled out, closed the hatch with its read leg, and went about its day.

“Excuse the wait, this unit’s speaker had been damaged. Welcome.” The voice gave out a deep distorted growl as it spoke. It hurt her ears to listen too.

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