His body and his limbs were brazen by pythia
(AN: just moving my bit of the story on, as we head towards the end game. Necessary disclaimers: the World of Ebberron is not mine, I'm just borrowing a few ideas from it. Ray Harryhausen was the first to reproduce the Bronze Giant, and I have no shares in a certain Ice Cream company. Other makes are available and can be purchased in you local store.)
“I have decided,” Lady Da’kEsh considered slowly, “that I prefer the Peanut Butter cup flavour over the others. Although the Phish Food is texturally pleasant, and the Winter Berry is equally enjoyable.” She sighed, scooping up another spoonful of the slowly melting treat. “So much our world lost when the demons won …”
“Not here,” Iolaus said firmly, albeit around his own mouthful of ice cream. “Not on our watch. And this stuff is good. We gotta take Alcmene some recipes.”
Candy laughed at his expression. “My dad’ll find you some,” she declared. “Hell, Ben and Jerry’ll probably invent something especially for you. A ‘Demon’s Slaughter’ maybe – all swirls of raspberry sauce with chunky nuts and chocolate bones. Mmmghmmm,” she added, savouring the sweet and salty goodness on her spoon. “So
glad Mr Follet remembered about the post-slayage thing. You think he brought enough for the Generals, too?”
“I doubt that Alexander has time for luxuries,” Father Stone said with a wry smile. “But he put guards on that ice-truck your father found, so I think there may be plenty left.”
“Not at the rate we’re eating it.” Gabrielle had a tub of Chunky Monkey that she was sharing with Nyalia and Kerwin. They – like the other Templars – had clearly never tasted ice cream before: they had matching expressions of bliss on their faces and were savouring each swallow with care.
“We earned it,” Iolaus laughed. “But try and save some for the others – they should be back from the de-briefing soon.”
“We did good, right?” Candy’s memories of the last part of their raid was a little blurry, due to her being knocked silly by a demon that had been a little too big for her to take on her own. She remembered Wonder Woman swooping in to rescue her, and Naylia giving her something weird to drink that had made her feel a whole lot better – and stop bleeding all over the floor, which hadn’t been good – and she had fuzzy memories of Hercules and Xena battling their way through to the big furnaces and throwing in the Phoenix’s feathers Hephaestus had given them … and then something about the fire flooding out, and an entire army of those elemental women stepping out of it … Fire elementals, of course, not the Water ones that came to the rescue in Vermilion.
After that, she’d kind of lost track – at least until she’d found herself back at the entrance to the rolling mill, and awake enough to help out with the mopping up of stuff that got past the Templars. Who were awesome
in combat, and had the whole ‘swapping quips and having mundane conversations in the middle of battle’ thing going on between them as if they’d been fighting demons their entire lives. Which she guess they had been, now she stopped to think about it …
“We did great,” Iolaus assured her. “You
were great. But you have to learn to duck. I don’t think your head is as hard as mine.”
“I hope not,” Gabrielle grinned. “Hers isn’t made of wood …”
“Hey!” Iolaus’ protest was a good natured one; he flicked his spoon at her, and things might have deteriorated into a post battle food fight – except that Hercules chose that exact moment to arrive, snagged the spoon from his partner’s hand and used it to scoop up a huge mouthful of Cherry Garcia from the tub in the centre of the table. Iolaus’s second ‘hey’ was equally good natured – he slapped his partner lightly in the stomach and held out fresh spoons to Xena and Diana as they slipped into the group in Hercules’ wake.
“Alexander is moving the troops east and south,” Xena announced, helping herself from the tub that Gabrielle held out to her. “The ground here is secure and the Amazons are setting up camp at French Creek, over the river. The plan is to extend the line as far as Elyria and hold between there and the shore until further orders come. There will be work for us, running patrols and reinforcing incursions along the line. Kate and SG13 have been recalled for reassignment, but the Jaffa will remain to assist.”
“Every little helps.” Iolaus was looking worried. “Does Alexander have enough troops to hold a line that long? We’re already staked out along the shore, and Zeus has those phalanxes in the East … even with the Amazons and the Centaurs we’re running out of troops to deploy.”
“Heaphestus has promised reinforcements.” Hercules smiled at Candy as he sat down at the table and snagged an ice cream tub of his own. “He and the dwarves have been working ever since we liberated the forges. The first phalanxes should be marching out pretty soon.”
“So quick?” Candys’s eyes darted across the river towards the Mills and the churned and bloodied grounds around them. Warriors were bustling among the hasty defences, taking them down to move elsewhere, and smoke was slowly rising from the piles of demon corpses that littered the regained ground. “It’s only been a couple of hours.”
“He works fast. The Dwarves work faster.”
“His work is good.” Wonder Woman nodded towards Candy’s now slightly battered bracers, and she grinned. The first time she’d smashed a demon in the face with her forearm, it had screamed with agony and staggered back, all burned and smoking. The attack was starting to become one of her favourite moves – right up there with the slice and dice of Hera’s sword. “I suspect theirs more than matches it. It will be interesting to see what they have been making.”
“Troops – and carriers.” Hercules grimaced. “There will be a good many more demons to kill before this war is over.”
troops?” Candy couldn’t quite get her head round that. Swords and shields and stuff like the helicopter she could understand. But how, exactly did you make people? Even if you were a god?
“Alexander called them ‘warforged.’” Xena sounded a little skeptical too. “Apparently Hephaestus got the idea from someone the Council sent to inspect us ...”
In the depth of the steel mills, figures were shifting and moving as they came to life. Fibrous muscles of wood stretched over stone and metal bones tightened and shifted beneath plates of steel and crystal. The hiss of hot bronze blood raced through a lacing of tubes and vessels to stir the slow beat of fabricated hearts and fire the intricate weaving housed within armored skulls. Huge hands, made to grasp swords and wield powerful weapons, clenched and unclenched as freshly made fingers and thumbs stretched and bent for the very first time. Dwarvish runes, engraved above heavy brows, glowed briefly as each figure received the final breath of life.
Their first question was ‘who am I?’
It was answered with a number and a letter, designations for them to adopt until each found their own true name, and accepted with grim nod.
The second question was ‘what must we kill?
Rank by rank, they awoke and took stock of their existence. These were no simple automatons, made to blindly follow
orders. They were living, thinking creatures, designed for battle, but built to be more than mere machines. They would fight – but fight for a purpose, for a reason. To defend the living, and honour the glorious dead.
Gods had gifted them with life. The Fates had woven them into the threads of destiny – and each, and every one of them held within it the spark of a soul. Those that survived the coming conflict would be worthy of a long and blessed life.
High above the ranks of his awakening army, Hephaestus looked down on his work and saw that it was good. There was more to do – much more – before Alexander had the forces he would need to assist in the final battles to come, but this first wreaking had exceeded even the Forger’s expectations. The dwarves were masters in their craft, and between them they had wrought miracles.
The living bronze flanks which currently supported him shivered and shifted under his feet, making him smile. This work, too, was good. He and Daedalus had taken Odysseus’s original design and added to it, turning it from simple practicality to efficient work of art. They had built only one so far, but there would be more. Steeds to transport this new army to the place where they could do the most good.
The god looked up from his troops and smiled at their general. He was a masterpiece, a reworking of an old design, and revised to remove the weakness that had brought about his downfall in the past.
“Lead them out, Talos,” he ordered softly. “Lead your brothers to battle – and bring them victory.”
The bronze giant – sixty feet tall, and a good match to the sturdy Trojan Horse that stamped impatiently beside him – acknowledged the order with a slow and respectful nod. Then he reached down, picked up his sword – and marched the warforged out to war …