Catching up on Old Times

by Chris O'Kane

This takes place right after Twilight Before the Dawn - literally. It picks up where that story ends.

Click! The sound was soft and slightly muffled like it was coming from deep within the automaton.

Slowly the left ear spun about lazily. Then the right ear moved. The two ears flicked about for a moment. The eyes fluttered and then opened wide. Then the massive, metal cat stood up. Her mouth opened wide in a yawn revealing a set of impressively large, sharp teeth. She stretched each of her legs slowly and deliberately. Marchel was reminded of Sprinkles, his own house cat.

"Does she know we're here?" Joeline asked nervously.

The massive, metal head snapped around in the girl's direction and those metal eyes widened with surprise.

"She does now," Misha muttered as his hands tightened their grip on his axe. "No one move."

"She's undoubtedly very confused," Carlisle said speaking softly.

Slowly the metal Smilodon looked at each of the people in the room. Her head moving and her eyes missing not the smallest detail of each one.

"Irtul fuw shun tulano," the feline said in a deep, growling voice.

"Anyone speak old Suiel?" Misha asked slowly.

"Hello cousin!" Madog said cheerfully. "Long time no see."

She looked at the metal fox and cocked her head to one side. "Shan alfuluera teho Madog."

Madog took a deep bow. "Welcome back," he said in Seiul.

"How do you feel?" Carlisle asked, straining to remember the Suiel he learned as a child. "Anything not working or feels wrong?"

Salona slowly flexed each of her limbs then shook her body. Then she looked at the mage examining him slowly. "Everything is as it should be."

"No dizziness or pain?" The automaton mage asked.

"None," the feline responded. "I don't even feel sleepy. Are you the one who reassembled me?"

"I am one of them," Carlisle answered. He pointed to the group of people that stood a short distance away. "It was a group effort."

"You did nice work. Thank you. It is good to know that at least some people still remember and honor Automatia," Salona said.

"We are only just now rediscovering it," Carlisle explained.

Demarest walked up to the feline and bowed deeply. "Greetings, I am Guild Master Demarest," he said, speaking slowly in old Seiul. "It is an honor to meet you. I am headmaster of the Marigund Mages guild."

The feline automaton gave a small bow in response. "Greetings master Demarest. I am honored to meet you. I have never heard of your organization. Is it a school?"

"The guild is many things including a school and library. We are dedicated to preserving knowledge and magic and passing it along to all willing to learn and use it wisely," the Headmaster said solemnly. "I am the latest in a long line to have the honor and responsibility of that position. The first to hold that title was Nevittia Aprontinia."

The feline's ears perked up. "Aprontinia, I know that name," Salona said. "Is he related to Iulius Aprontinia?"

"Yes," Demarest answered with a nod of the head. "But we cannot be sure. Records from that era are sadly lacking."

She looked around at the room and the people in it. "Where is this Marigund?" The metal feline asked.

"The empire name for it was Pintia," Lady Delminie said in flawless Suiel.

The felines eyes narrowed and her metal lips curled into a snarl. "And who are you? Priestess," she asked. Her words dripping with anger and contempt.

The lady gave a full curtsey but kept her distance. She was well aware of the bolt she had gotten from this feline some weeks before. "I am High priestess Valarie Delminie of Elvaquelin."

"What is she doing here?" Salona snarled. Why is that priestess here?" She pointed to Delminie with a long, sharp claw.

"She is here for the same reason I am," The cardinal said speaking for the first time. He stood up straight and his face had a firm look to it but the man's smile seemed genuine. "We are looking after a lost soul."

"And who are you?" Salona asked harshly. "Are you a Lightbringer priest?"

"Hardly." The cardinal smiled and laughed for a moment but both faded fast. This creature had no knowledge of the Ecclesia at all having last been awake decades before the birth of the Savior. "I am Cardinal Antione Bertu and I'm from the competition," he said giving a very Marigundian answer. "Our faith has grown up while you were away."

"We're not here to destroy anything," Bishop Harson explained. "We are all here to understand and learn."

Salona looked from one Follower leader to the other. "And who are you?"

"I am William Harson the presiding bishop of the Evangelical assembly," he explained with some pride.

"Are you of this new faith too?"

Harson paused for a moment unsure of how to answer her. There had been ecumenical councils, debates, battles and whole wars over just that question. How does he explain the split between Eccelsia and Rebuilder and not turn it into a religious lecture? "No. Well. Not exactly. It's complex."

"Religion always is," Salona commented sarcastically. "This isn't the first time I have been surrounded by such people." There was a true hostility in her words. "The last thing I saw before going to sleep was many priests and priestesses declaring that I should die. Now here again I see priests and priestesses surrounding me."

"The past is the past," Delminie said in clipped tones, trying to contain her growing anger. "Do not accuse me of crimes done in the past by someone long dead. That was then. This is now."

"Time is nothing," Salona said in an oddly distant tone. "A year, a century. They are all the same to me. The clothing and the languages change but the people are the same. The same loves and hatreds. Same evil."

"You have only just met us and already you assume we are your enemies," the cardinal said seemingly unfazed by the feline's hostility. "If we were truly your enemy you would never have woken up."

"Your kind are always my enemy," she snarled. "Always have been and always will be. The faces are different but the hatred is the same."

Misha recognized the hostile tone of her voice and body movements. He wrapped one hand around the hilt of his powerful, black battle axe. Everyone in the room seemed tense. With a small wave of the hand he told his parents to step back and towards safety. Behind him he could hear several more people slowly enter the room. The soft sound of metal on metal told him it was probably heavily armed and armored soldiers. The only one who seemed calm was Madog who was sitting in front of Misha's parents. Putting himself between them and Salona.

"Do not bring old hatreds into the modern world," Arstein ordered sharply.

Salona looked from cardinal to rabbi. "Don't tell me what to do priest. And old hatreds die hard."

Deliminie gave a rare smile and a small laugh.

"You find that funny?" Salona asked, confused and angry. She stepped closer to the woman, moving with the grace and power of a predator.

Delminie stood her ground and remained calm. "Not humorous, ironic."

The feline stopped. "Why?"

"It's complicated," the priestess answered. "When you understand the recent, violent history of this land you will understand. I think I finally understand for the first time."

"I understand an enemy when I see one," Salona snarled ominously.

Madog stepped in front of the metal feline. "No enemies here. These are my friends. They ALL good people. Even her," he pointed to the Lightbringer priestess with his tail. "You here because they said so. They let you come back."

She leaned closer to Madog. "They allowed it?"

Madog nodded. "They yell, scream, argue and talk seriously. Then say you are lost and we found you."

Salona stepped back and shook her head in amazement. Her ears perked up. "Times have changed."

The metal fox turned to the crowd. "She MY friend. You wrong her and my kind in the past. Your kind want to wipe us out. Kill all of us. Priests try and wipe us all out."

"We don't want to kill anyone." the rabbi said.

"You didn't want her to wake up," Madog countered.

"To be honest we weren't sure what to do with her," Harson commented. "Five hundred years ago she would have simply been destroyed and all involved executed."

"We have gone from blind hatred to confusion and distrust." The priestess gave a wry smile. "It seems we have advanced somewhat in five centuries."

"You don't trust us," Arnstein said. "But we don't trust you either. All we have is the old legends of the evil and terror the automatons caused. Like the tales my mother told me when I was a child."

"And you believe those tales?" Salona asked in cold, hard tones.

"No," came the answer. "I don't see the monster of my childhood tales. I see a person. A little different looking but still a person. No better and no worse than anyone else but certainly a lost soul. But I am still undecided as to what you as a person are like. That remains to be seen."

The cardinal sighed loudly. "Why is nothing in this land easy or simple? When we solve one problem it breeds a score of others."

"We are all tripping into this sideways and unprepared," Harson said calmly. "You are as unprepared for this as we are."

"I understand the pain and hatred that occurred in the past," the cardinal said. "Let us not bring that into today. Let us ALL bury the past and start fresh."

"We all have a chance at a new start here not just you," Delminie said. "I cannot correct the past. What I can promise is that from now on you WILL be treated fairly and honestly." There was a look on her face as hard and fierce as a sword blade.

The cardinal nodded his slowly. "As a cardinal of the Ecclesia I do promise that we will not act in hatred or ignorance. I have seen too much of that already."

Harson nodded his head. "Marigund has seen too much of that.".

"Agreed," Arstein added.

"What to you is the distant past is to me merely yesterday. Those memories are fresh," Salona said slowly. "But it is the past and this is a new world for me. I will lay aside my old prejudices and judge this new place on its own merits. But be warned. I WILL be on guard and watch all that you do."

The atmosphere in the room lightened instantly. Misha heaved a sigh of relief as he took his hands off of the hilt of his axe.

"We have politely told you who we are," Rabbi Arstein commented. He pointed a finger at the metal feline. "But who are you Salona?"

"Who am I?" Salona asked, sounding surprised. She was silent for a long moment. "An excellent question. Who am I?"

"Don't you know? We were hoping you'd know," Misha commented.

"You know nothing of me?" The feline seemed to be genuinely amazed.

Misha shrugged. "We know your name. That's all."

The cat took a step back and seemed to be truly shaken. "Has so much been lost?" The usual confidence was gone and she seemed to be a lonely soul.

Misha nodded his head slowly. "Oh yeah! A very great deal has been lost...  it -has- been 500 years."

"What's lost can be found," Madog muttered.

Misha turned and looked intently at the fox automaton. Madog didn't speak but seemed lost in thought.

"What of the empire?" Salona asked. "It was supposed to last forever." There was a touch of sarcasm in her voice.

"Long lost," Carlisle commented.

"It's gone?" Salona asked, surprised. "The entire empire gone? So soon?"

"Gone," Carlisle said slowly. "The empire collapsed back in 150."

"What is the year now?" The feline asked slowly.

"708 Cristos reckoning," Demarest explained and paused for a moment. "In the old Seuilman calendar it would be 1574."

"I see," she said slowly and sighed. "It lasted longer than most. What has replaced it?"

Misha looked away from Madog. The metal fox was looking intently at the feline and avoiding Misha. He followed his friends gaze back to the sabertooth. "Chaos."

"Small to medium sized countries and city-states in the midlands," Demarest explained. "There is an empire based around Elvquelin. It claims to be the empire but it is a mere shadow of the old one."

"Something else will come along to replace it eventually," she said in a matter of fact tone. "I would have liked to have seen its fall."

"No," Madog said simply. The fox was sitting there with his head down and tail tucked in. "No you wouldn't have liked it."

She looked at Madog. "What was it like?" She asked in a soft tone.

"It was . . ." the metal fox paused for a moment. He stared off into space. His body was in the present but his mind was seeing events of the past. "Very bad. So much lost. So many dead."

"We do not know the exact death toll," Delminie said slowly. "But it's estimated that at least 50% of the population died in the space of three years. Population levels are still only half of what the empire possessed."

"That too will pass with time," Salona said. "Eventually some new warlord of esteemed leader with rise and build another empire. And in the course of time that too will collapse."

"You are very callus about the death and destruction of an empire," Misha commented.

"I have seen a dozen empires rise and fall in my long life," Salona explained. "Nothing lasts forever." She peered at Misha carefully, looking him over from head to tail. "And what are you exactly? Some wizard's pet? Or some wizard?"

"It's complex," Misha answered.

"Well," she said slowly. "I have time."

The end