by Chris O'kane

At exactly 7:30 am there was a knock on Misha's door. Upon opening it he found a small, very well armed party standing there. Rickkter, Wessex, and five of the Duke's own guards were in the group. There was also a leopard morph he didn't recognize and two servants loaded down with all manner of bundles.

Already present in Misha's small apartment were Matthias, Father Hough, Kimberly, Caroline, Jon, and Smithson.

"Well, are you ready?" Misha asked Wessex.

"I am," came the answer.

Misha sighed, "let's get started. This is going to be a long day."

"Where is the little monster?" Rickkter asked.

"In my workshop," Misha answered. He pointed to the guards, "You'd best stay out here, it's going to be a little crowded in there. You can post one person in the doorway to watch things."

The sergeant nodded, "Yes sir," he said.

The group moved into Misha's workshop, to find no trace of Madog anywhere. "Where is he?" Rickkter asked drawing one of his numerous, large knives.

Misha looked around; the metal fox was nowhere to be found. "Oh come on Madog. I thought you agreed to do this," he said in exasperation.

"No!" a voice said from somewhere in the room. No one could locate the source of the voice. The investigation had reached its first serious problem; the subject didn't want to be investigated.

Wessex scanned the room, "How can something that big hide in here?"

Rickkter shook his head in disgust. "This is terrific. Not only can he crush stone and metal but he can become invisible too," the raccoon said in a sarcastic tone of voice.

"Think of it this way, now we know one more fact about him," Hough suggested.

"Good point," Matthias added.

"I have a spell that will reveal him," Wessex said coldly.

Hough waved his hand, "Not needed. You just have to know how to handle him." The priest reached into his pocket and pulled out a gold coin. "If you come out and behave, I'll give you this little snack," he said waving the coin around.

"Snack?" Wessex and Misha said in unison.

"He's an automaton and they don't eat," the fox said, confused.

"Watch and learn son," was Hough's reply.

There was a flash of movement and suddenly Madog was standing on the workbench next to Misha. The fox yelped in surprise and took a step back.

Hough patted the automaton on the head and held out the coin. Madog took the offered treat and swallowed it in one gulp.

"Amazing," Misha said in awe. "He's not supposed to do that. There's nothing inside that allows him to digest things."

"Perhaps the digestion is magical, not mechanical. It could explain why he doesn't need to be rewound or recharged," Wessex suggested.

The mage looked towards the two servants. "You can place the items there," he said and pointed to the middle of the floor.

"I see you come prepared," Misha commented as the servants started to unpack all sorts of paraphernalia.

The leopard stepped up to Misha, "Good morning sir. My name is Sindia, I'm the Duke's scribe. Lord Thomas thought it advisable for me to record everything that happens."

Misha nodded, "Makes sense. You can set up at the end of the bench."

The leopard bowed formally, "Thank you sir," she said.

"Enough with the formalities Sindia. Please just call me Misha," he told her.

"Ok, first lets get some basic information down," Wessex started.

"Excuse me sir," Sindia interrupted. "Exactly how do you spell the subjects name?" she asked.

"You spell it M, A, D, O, G," Misha answered.

"Thank you," the scribe replied.

"No problem. Now back to the basics. Madog was discovered by a work crew that was rebuilding and widening a road near Mycransburg. He was lying at the bottom of the grade buried under an old landslide," Misha explained. "My guess is that he was being moved by wagon when the road was washed away, probably in a storm. For some reason he was never recovered. Most likely Vernosa, his creator, was killed soon afterward."

Jon spoke next, "We have only a little information on Vernosa himself. Basically just the fact that he was a mage of some power and a minor nobleman here in the pass."

Wessex shook his head, "That's not a lot of information."

"We're still researching the subject," Jon added.

"Anyone have anything else to add?" Wessex said out loud. He was answered with silence. "All right we can begin the exam itself. The first thing we do is to look Madog over."

To Misha the creature looked just as when he had first shown him to the Duke. There was only one change; on the right side of his neck was a long tear in the skin.

"My war staff did that," Rickkter commented pointing to the wound.

Madog turned to the raccoon and stuck out his tongue at him. "Phooey!" he said.

"Oh, ho, very funny," Rickkter said in a sarcastic tone as he drew his sword. "Come here, Madog," he snarled, advancing on the automaton.

Both Jon and Misha jumped in front of the warrior, and grabbed his arms. "Rickkter, calm down," the fox yelled as the three of them grappled. A brief struggle ensued before they managed to drag the raccoon out of the room. Jon returned to the workshop, closing the door behind him and leaving Misha restraining Rickkter.

Misha looked at the four guards who were standing in the room looking surprised. "Will you please wait in the workshop while I have a word with Rick." The soldiers saluted and left.

When the guards had departed Misha let go. "Damn it Rick!" Misha hissed. "What's gotten into you? You've been acting crazy ever since Madog first attacked you."

The raccoon paced back and forth, his sword still drawn. He eventually stopped and pointed at the door with the katana. "That thing you have in there, I don't like it."

"So I've noticed."

"No, I mean I really don't like it. That thing is a machine built for one purpose, and one purpose only: to kill. Not to amuse, not to be a pet, but to be an efficient killer. That is it's only purpose," Rick said.

Misha nodded a little, "You two have a lot in common."

Rickkter stopped his pacing and glared at the fox. He slid his sword back into it's scabbard. "Yes, you see my concern," he said in a whispered tone. "If it were human I could understand how it thinks, how it might act. But it's not human, it's a machine, and I have no clue about those. That is why I don't like it. That is why I want it destroyed."

"Rick, Madog isn't going to hurt you or anyone else. I put him together myself, believe me, he won't hurt anyone. Not now that he's accomplished his task of killing Duke Brian."

"Correction; you RE-built Madog. There is still a lot about it that we don't know. Frankly, I'm still of the opinion that we should destroy it altogether. The risk is just too big."

"You already said as much to the Duke, and he still didn't agree with you. It was only because of your skill as a mage and a fighter that the Duke let you sit in on this exam, what with your temper." Misha let out a puff of breath. "Speaking of which, have you calmed down enough to go back?"

"Yeah," Rick said in an angry and defeated tone. "Let's get this over with."

"Feeling a little better, Rick?" asked Jon as the pair returned to the workshop.

"Everything's fine now," said Misha as he took his place next to Madog. "Let's move on. What's next?"

"Measurements," Wessex answered.

A tape measure was produced from among Wessex's numerous bundles. Misha took one end and held it against Madog's metal tail. He stretched the cloth all the way to Madog's nose. "Length from nose to tail; three rods," he said to Sindia.

Misha saw that metal nose twitch and he jerked his hand back just as Madog moved. Those powerful jaws snapped closed on the end of the tape measure. Then Madog seemed to inhale and the entire cloth measure was sucked up into his mouth. The metal animal chewed twice and then swallowed.

"HEY!" the mage shouted. "That was my tape measure he just ate!"

The fox just stood there staring at the automaton. "Ah, do you have another tape?" he asked in a distracted tone of voice.

"I believe that weight is the next item on the agenda," Jon said.

It took them a while to set up the balance scale in the center of the room. The scale was large enough to weigh a full grown man with no problem and it had many parts.

It took them an hour and two silver coins to coax Madog onto the scale. Then they had to bribe him with two more to hold still while Wessex calculated his weight.

"Weight; two hundred fifty two pounds," The boy told the scribe.

"I believe that the next thing on the list is a general magical examination," Smithson suggest.

"That's correct," Misha confirmed.

Wessex pulled a pair of glasses out of his pocket and spoke an incantation. The glasses glowed with a blue light for a moment. The boy put the glasses on and stared at Madog intently. The automaton was sitting on the workbench staring right back at Wessex.

"What spell are you using? Magic sight?" Misha asked.

The boy mage nodded.

"What can you see?" Smithson asked.

"Nothing useful," came the answer. "He's too well shielded for me to get anything specific."

The boy mage took off the glasses, "I think it's about time to get a look inside."

"Agreed," Rickkter said.

"No," Madog said in a quiet voice.

"Now Madog this won't hurt," Hough said quietly.

"NO!" the metal creature said loudly, "And I'm NOT hungry."

"That's good, because I'm out of money," Jon mumbled.

Wessex growled in frustration and Rickkter just shook his head.

"I need a drink," Misha announced to the group. "Anyone care to join me?" he asked as he left the room.

"I will," Wessex said out loud.

"Count me in," Rickkter added.

In a moment Misha returned with an open bottle of wine. He took a swallow from it and handed it to Rickkter. The raccoon took a long drink, belched and passed it to Wessex.

Caroline walked up to Madog and lightly touched the wound on his neck. "Honey, If we promise to fix this cut, would you let us take a peek inside?" she asked the automaton.

Misha perked up at that idea. "I'd have to open you up anyway just to repair your neck," he added.

"I won't let them hurt you," Hough said quietly.

Madog stared at the rest of the group for a moment, before settling his gaze on Misha. The scout shivered under that gaze, and he didn't doubt that Madog knew everything he was thinking.

"Alright," the automaton said quietly. "But you touch NOTHING!" he finished in a loud voice.

Jon nodded, "Fair enough, we've just spent two years fixing you. Why would we want to destroy all that work?"

Misha picked up a small jewelers screwdriver and approached Madog slowly. Taking his time he carefully started to remove the fine screws holding the skin on. First he removed the damaged neck piece, then the whole right side. Both pieces were gently placed on the bench next to a nervous Madog. With his task done Misha stepped back to let the mages get a closer look.

"Wow!" was all Rickkter said after a long look.

Wessex put on his glasses and carefully examined Madog. After a moment he took them off and sat down on a chair, visibly shaken.

"What is it?" Smithson asked.

Misha grabbed the glasses, and put them on. What he saw when he looked at Madog surprised him. Radiating off of Madog like heat from an oven were huge waves of powerful magic. That wasn't the most surprising part though. Wherever Misha looked at the original metal he saw magic symbols, sigils, or runes carved in fine lines. They covered every single inch of the original skin, frame and gears. They swirled, looped and interconnected into one giant intricate pattern. The pattern was missing only on the newer restored parts. In some places he could see where it stopped abruptly, or only a portion still remained. That was where a corroded or missing section had been replaced with a new piece.

He also noticed that the automaton's whole body was covered in a deep blue glow. This blue glow covered everything, even the new restored pieces. Misha realized that it was some form of potent magic that didn't seem to care what part was new and what was a replacement. It had been absorbed into every part of Madog, regardless of age.

"I haven't seen magic that powerful in decades," Wessex said in awe.

"That blue glow, that's on everything, what is it?" Misha asked.

"It's the prime spell that binds everything together," Rickkter answered.

Jon tapped Misha on the arm, "let me see please."

Misha handed the deer the glasses. "Wessex, you said that you hadn't seen magic that powerful in years. Just how powerful is Madog's magic?" he asked.

"As powerful as your axe, if not more so, my friend," Rickkter answered.

Wessex nodded in agreement. "That sounds about right."

"Oh boy," Misha said in a whisper.

After everyone had been given a chance to view through the glasses, the boy mage reclaimed them. Together with Rickkter the two mages began to carefully examine the magic writing itself.

"It must have taken years to do all that magic carving," Kimberly said. "I mean would someone have wanted power that badly, to waste years of their life planning and making all that magic work."

Hough shook his head. "The greed of some people for power knows no bounds. They are quite willing to do what ever it takes to get what they want."

Charles shook his head, "Amazing, Vernosa must have been a very powerful mage to do this level of work."

"Sindia, please make a note of this, I see symbols of power, sharpness, protection, speed and invisibility carved repeatedly over the entire body," Wessex said.

"Also, I see several that I don't recognize," Wessex added.

Rickkter leaned closer, "Which ones?" he asked.

The boy pointed to a section of the skin near the shoulder, "There," he said.

The raccoon looked for a moment before speaking, "that looks like a rune of silence, but the one intertwined with it is unknown to me."

"Misha, where exactly is that emblem of Vernosa's you found," Rickkter asked.

Misha touched the inside of the skin for the right shoulder, "right there."

Both Mages leaned closer to the section of skin. "Just as I thought," Wessex said. That emblem is in the middle of a symbol of binding."

"What does that mean?" Misha asked.

"It means that Madog is bound to Vernosa and forced to follow his every command," Wessex answered.

"But Vernosa has been dead for three hundred years," Kimberly said.

Rickkter shook his head, "Doesn't matter, that thing still has to follow whatever commands Vernosa gave him, regardless of the passage of time."

"How many commands could he have given to Madog?" Caroline asked.

Wessex shrugged, "No way of knowing. You see Madog still belongs to Vernosa and always will. At least as long as that binding symbol has Vernosa's emblem connected to it," the boy added.

Misha stroked under his muzzle for a moment before speaking. "What would happen if you altered the emblem? I mean its only lightly carved into the metal."

Wessex shrugged. "That's hard to say. Theoretically it's possible to alter the binding, but it would require great skill and coordination."

"But it could be done," the fox pressed.

"Yes," Rickkter replied quietly.

"Removing Vernosa's emblem and putting my own in it's place would put Madog under my control? " Misha asked.

"Yes, the spell is only as good as the symbol used to create it. Change the symbol and you change the spell. That's the one great weakness of symbol magic," Wessex said.

Misha reached into a drawer and removed several items. Then he snatched the magic glasses from off of Wessex's nose. Putting on the glasses he examined the binding emblem for a few moments. It was a beautiful swirl of shapes. He'd never seen something so complex, but he could easily pick out Vernosa's emblem intertwined in the center.

"What are you going to do?" Wessex asked.

"Watch and see," came the reply.

Misha looked through all of his tools before finding just the right one. It was a tiny file, at the tip it was barely larger than a pencil point. Picking it up he began to carefully file away Vernosa's emblem.

Wessex let out a shout, "Misha, STOP! Your dealing with deadly magic. There's no telling what will happen." Rickkter reached for the fox's arm to stop him, but Matthias grabbed Rickkter's arm first.

"Leave him be, he knows what he's doing," Charles said.

Rickkter shook off the rat's hand and glared at him, but didn't move to interfere.

Wessex signaled for the fox to stop. "Misha, one tiny mistake could alter the binding, or remove it altogether," he cautioned.

Misha looked at the boy, "I'm well aware of the risks involved. I come from a family of mages, so I'm not completely ignorant of magic."

The mage looked at the fox but didn't say anything. He just nodded for him to continue.

The group watched in silence as Misha worked with great care and precision. No one seemed to watch more closely than Madog, who followed every move of the file. What the metal creature was thinking was a mystery to all.

It was over an hour before Misha erased the last bit of Vernosa's emblem leaving the binding symbol intact. From it's small box he took his metal stamp. He then carefully positioned it in the center of the symbol. After several minutes of checking and moving it was in the position he wanted.

Misha gave one sharp blow with the hammer on the top of the stamp and the deed was done. He looked up and found Madog standing less than an inch from his face. Behind him Wessex gasped, and Caroline reached for her sword. Rickkter raised his hand and everyone froze. The fox held perfectly still and looked at the metal animal facing him. "Did I do it right, or have I just unleashed a ravening killer?" he thought to himself.

Madog just stared at him with those deep blue eyes for what seemed an eternity. Then he licked Misha on the muzzle, "Hi Papa. Can I have a treat? I've been good."