Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and mature content.
“Just a little further now,” Audrea said. “You’ve gotta hold on just a little bit longer. I’ll find a way to get you out of this, like you’ve always done for me.” Her throat tightened at this, but she fought it down. There would be time enough for tears once she’d gotten them somewhere a little less cold.
Her shoulders ached, but she ignored it best she could. Her elder brother, Andis, leaned on her, arm wrapped snugly around her as they trudged through the snow. His body, soaking wet just a half hour ago, was now covered in a thin layer of frost. He’d been drifting in and out of consciousness for a while now, stumbling every few minutes. Audrea wrapped her cloak a little more tightly around the two of them, though it did little good. It was far too small to cover them both completely, and too thin to block out the wind. Without some way to light a fire though, it was all she could do.
She raised her hand in front of her face, shielding it from the onslaught of snowflakes. Squinting, she tried to make out some sort of shape ahead, anything that would tell her where she even was, but to no avail. It was like the inside of a cloud, nothing but blinding white wherever she looked. Without her hand holding her cloak closed, it billowed out around her, flapping madly about as she scrambled to fix it.
Forget finding a town, she thought. Just give us a cave or something! Somewhere to rest up and build a fire where the blizzard won’t put it out.
Andis murmured something, but was drowned out by the howling of the wind. Audrea glanced at him, but quickly turned away. His eyes were lolling around in their sockets and his skin was nearly as pale as the powder on the ground. She felt his grip slacken, and he fell face first into the snow.
“Come on, man, we don’t have time for this!” She cried, shaking his shoulder. He didn’t stir.
Panic rose in her chest, and for a moment she found it difficult to breathe.
“Somebody help! He’ll die if you don’t, you have to save us!” She sunk to her knees, nearly hysterical now. “I can’t lose him too, he’s all I’ve got left!”
The storm gave no answer. Audrea buried her face in her hands, letting out a sob. Her tears soaked her glove, frosting over in seconds. Clutching her unconscious brother to her chest, she looked up once more at the whitewashed world around her, straining to see something, anything that might save her.
Then, for a split second, the wind quieted, and the path ahead cleared. For one moment, she saw something, a great shadow stretching up into the sky, not fifty feet from where she sat. Before she had a chance to make out what it was, it was gone again, as the wind began to blow once more. The logical part of her knew getting her hopes up was stupid, she knew, but she just couldn’t help herself. This, at least, was better than nothing at all.
Heaving, she lifted her brother as best she could, hoisting him up by the shoulders. Hardly daring to breathe, she stumbled through the now knee-deep snow, dragging him behind. The air seemed to grow even colder as the wind picked up even more. Bundled up though she was, her arms and legs had grown all but numb, the chill slowly making its way towards her chest and head.
It can’t be much further, she thought. I have to see… I have to know if there’s even a chance...
She fought onwards, inch by inch, willing the shadow to appear once more before her. Then, with her body shaky and vision blurry, she walked right into it. Trembling all over, she reached out and brushed the surface of whatever it was with her fingertips, finding not the rough stone of a strange rock outcropping she had been expecting, but something much smoother. It wasn’t exactly warm, but it wasn’t cold either. Whatever this was, it was somehow unaffected by the storm around it.
Though she couldn’t see much of it, she knew it curved ever so slightly, forming a gigantic cylinder stretching upwards into the sky. Steeling herself, she hoisted Andis up once more and began to circle it, running her hand across its smooth surface, perhaps hoping to at least use it as shelter from the wind for a while. Before long though, she came across something better. About a dozen steps in, her hand found a large crack in the structure, running horizontally along the surface. A few steps more and it grew larger, giving way to a gaping hole, just big enough for the two of them to squeeze through.
Hardly daring to believe her luck, Audrea stumbled inside. The temperature spiked significantly as she entered, though it still wasn’t anything close to warm. About ten feet in, the crevasse opened up into a cavernous area, though it was unlike any cave she had seen before. A dim light filled the area, though at first it was difficult to tell where it came from. The space seemed to take up the entire interior of the cylinder, stretching upwards until it hit a sharp bend, hiding the ceiling from view. The strangest thing about the situation though, was not the existence of this place itself, but what was hidden inside. Gigantic gears lined the walls, motionless and broken. Rubber tubes thicker than Audrea’s entire body snaked up and down throughout the room, some connected to a central shaft in the middle of the room, others dangling limply from the walls, severed long ago by some great force. The shaft, she realized, was where the light was coming from. It was filled entirely with an assortment of blue-green stones, each emitting a dim glow.
Audrea laid her brother on the floor, which was made of the same metal as the walls, then sat down herself, completely exhausted. His breathing was shallow and ragged and his skin was covered with frost. There was no wood here to build a fire with, so the best she could do was to pull one of the blankets out of her camping bag and wrap it around him. There was nothing to be done after that but watch him sleep, willing him to keep on breathing. Now that she was safe, the tears came again, rolling freely down her cheeks.
“Damn it…” she whispered. “If I was the one dying, you’d find a way to fix it. Why’d you have to be the one to go and get yourself messed up like this?”
She stayed like this for a while, curled up in a ball, shaking and crying. Then, all of a sudden, anger welled up within her and she got to her feet.
“DAMN IT!” She said again, shouting this time. She tried to think of something else to say, but couldn’t, so instead she let out a wild shout of fury, reeling and punching one of the rubber tubes nearest to her. Pain shot up her wrist and her knuckles popped, sending her crumbling to the floor once more, in tears. All was quiet for a few moments. Then, a new voice broke the silence.
“Who is this that has come to visit me?” It said, the sound reverberating through the chamber.
Audrea let out a little shriek of surprise, gripping the hilt of her sword which she always kept at her hip. “W-who was- What was-”
The voice chuckled. “Sorry about that, I didn’t mean to startle you. I haven’t heard another voice in so long, I suppose I may have gotten a little overexcited.”
“Where are you?” said Audrea, trying to keep her voice from wavering. “Show yourself!”
“Worry not, young human, I mean you no harm. My creators intended me to protect your kind, and that is a wish I mean to respect.”
“Creators? Protect?” Her grip on the sword loosened somewhat, but she didn’t let it go. “Why are you talking to me like I’m from a different species?”
“There will be time for explanations later. Right now, it seems your companion is in a spot of trouble. Do you know what’s wrong with him?”
“The blizzard took us by surprise. He… fell through the ice. I managed to pull him out, but now he’s soaking wet. His entire body’s frosted over now, and I-” She stopped. “What’s it to you anyways?”
“I can’t very well leave you two to die, not when I may be able to provide some assistance. Now, listen carefully-”
“Why should I trust you? I can’t even see you!”
The voice paused for a moment. “Please, I’m only trying to help. If we don’t hurry, his condition may worsen.”
Sweat dripped down Audrea’s face despite the chill in the air. The thought of having to rely on someone she knew nothing about was anything but appealing, but it wasn’t as though she had any other options.
“Fine,” She relented. “What do I do?”
“First things first, you’ve got to get those wet clothes off of him. We can’t do much for him if he’s soaked.”
Audrea kicked herself for not having thought of this already. “Uh… alright. But he’s my older brother, and that sounds a little… well…”
“We don’t have the luxury of worrying about social graces now. This is a matter of life and death.”
She tried her best to avert her gaze as she worked, but that proved impossible. The moment she finished, she threw the blanket back over him, face burning.
“Excellent work,” said the voice, unfazed. “Now, you’ll be needing a heat source. Do you see the big tube in the center there, the one with the glowing rocks inside?”
“Yeah, I see it.”
“There should be some cracks in the material surrounding it. Find one of them and pull out one of the stones. Try to find one about the size of your fist.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Stop wasting time asking questions! He’s running out of time.”
“I know but… nevermind.” She did as she was told, easily finding a hole in the glass large enough to pull a stone from.
“Once you’ve got that, you’re going to have to poke a slit in one of those red tubes. But first, do you have a cup or bottle of some kind? Also some way to make sparks? Flint or a lighter will do.”
“Yeah, I’ve got flint, and I can use my water flask, but what’s a lighter?”
“It’s not important. For a moment I forgot just how much the world has changed since I was born.”
“Wait, just how old-”
“We’ll talk later, alright? Focus on the task at hand. Now, you’ll need to poke a little hole in one of the tubes I mentioned earlier. Just enough for some of the stuff inside to start seeping out. One puncture with that sword of yours should do the trick. Anything more and it might get all over you, and believe me, you don’t want that. Fill your flask with it and back away. I’ll tell you what to do next after you’re finished.”
“I think I understand.” Audrea approached a blue tube, sword in hand. “So, I just stab it?”
“I said red, not blue! You’ll be electrocuted if you cut one of those. You’re not colorblind or something, are you?”
Audrea cringed. “No, sorry. I guess I’m just under a lot of pressure and-”
“Don’t worry about it. Just focus on finishing the job, alright?”
“Alright.” She turned to one of the red tubes this time and thrust her sword into it. It grazed the side, leaving nothing but a tiny scratch behind. Not deep enough for anything to escape.
“Take aim first,” advised the voice. “You don’t need to do it all in one quick motion. It might be simpler if you ease it in, bit by bit. Try to rush and you’ll make mistakes.”
She obeyed without speaking. She pressed the tip of the weapon into the side of the tube and thrust it into the rubber, creating a divot. Then, she put all her weight into the sword, until it slid all the way in. Gingerly, she removed it and stepped back, A clear, amber substance covered the blade, glistening in the blue-green light. Slowly, it began to leak through the hole in the tube as well, creating a small puddle on the ground.
Pouring the contents of her water flask on the floor, she approached the leak and carefully collected a sample. Some of the substance spilled onto her glove, so she quickly took it off and tossed it aside.
“Good, we’re almost done. Now, place the stone on the floor a good fifteen feet or so from your brother and pour the stuff from the tube all over it. This last step is the most dangerous of all, so listen up. You have to use your flint to set the stone on fire, then get away as fast as you can. Whatever you do, don’t look directly at it until I give the all clear, or you’ll go blind. Do you understand me?”
Audrea nodded, too nervous to speak.
“Alright, go ahead.”
She did as the voice said, dousing the stone in the yellow substance. Then, with shaking hands, she prepared to light it off. The first strike of the flint bore few sparks, but she leapt back anyway. On the second try, her hands were shaking so much she dropped it on the ground and had to pick it back up again. She paused for a moment, taking a deep breath to steady herself.
“You got this?” Asked the voice.
Gritting her teeth, she scraped the flint once more, sending a shower of sparks onto the stone. She didn’t have to look to know it was working, she could feel the heat on her back as she turned away from her work. The entire room filled with white light, sending strange shadows dancing across the walls. The room quickly grew warm, then hot, the contrast from the cold making it nearly unbearable. After about fifteen seconds, the glow faded somewhat, and the air went from hot to warm once more.
“You can look now,” Said the voice.
Audrea turned back around, reveling in the warmth of the room. The stone now glowed a bright white, and was almost unbearable to look at. It radiated heat, acting exactly like a campfire would have. She watched as her brother’s muscles relaxed somewhat and a little color returned to his skin.
“With any luck, he’ll wake up in a few hours,” said the voice. “Though I doubt he’ll be in any condition to move for quite some time.”
Audrea sat by the stone and let out a breath.
“Thank you so much,” she said. “And I’m sorry I didn’t trust you. I wouldn’t have been able to save him on my own. You don’t have any idea what this means to me.”
“It was my pleasure. I haven’t had the privilege of helping someone for quite some time. In my current condition. I’ve been stuck on this mountain for quite some time now. It’s terribly lonely up here, with no one to talk to. Just having a little company is all the reward I need.”
“If you don’t mind me asking… just how long have you been up here. Actually, before you answer that, what exactly are you in the first place? Why won’t you show yourself? And what did you mean when you said you were ‘created’?”
The voice laughed. “I suppose I did promise you an explanation. It’ll give us something to talk about while we wait out this blizzard anyhow. Let me try to explain as best I can. Do the people of this world still remember the time when man created gigantic mechanical titans to protect themselves from one another?”
“I’ve heard stories, yes. They say it was the Titans who destroyed the world a millenia ago, marking the end of what is now known as the Forgotten Age. They were the most powerful beings on the planet, used mainly for defensive purposes. I remember hearing that there was some sort of agreement made between the nations that they were never to be used for offensive purposes. Most had that directive hard coded into them to ensure that nobody would break that promise. But of course, that didn’t stop some of the more hostile countries from developing their own prototypes in secret and using them to wage war. But what does that have to do with this? I thought all the Titans left the planet at the end of the war, to ensure that their power was never used for the purposes of evil again.”
“That’s right except for one crucial detail,” said the voice. “Not all of the Titans left Earth when things came to a close. There were a few who stayed behind for one reason or another. Some couldn't stand the idea of floating around in an empty void for so long, searching for another planet or moon to live on. Most of them were headed towards Mars to start their own civilization, but that’s about seven months of traveling through nothing. And there’s not really much to do on Mars anyway. There were a few others who were just so broken down after the war, that they just couldn’t make the trip. With their human creators dead, there was no one left to repair them. No one who cared, anyhow.”
A chill went down Audrea’s spine, despite the warmth. She suddenly had a very good idea of where this might be headed.
“You’re not saying that you’re one of the Clockwork Titans of the Forgotten Age, are you? Because that would mean… well, when we get back home…”
“You’ll be famous,” said the voice. “You’ll be remembered as the first human to contact one of my kind in centuries. I am known as Aloysius, guardian of a state once known as Maine, formerly one of eighty-eight Titans tasked with defending the United States of America. Right now, you are sitting inside what remains of my left shin, enjoying the heat created from the substance that once gave it the power to move.”
Audrea sat in stunned silence, reeling from this revelation.
“Just how long have you been stuck here?” she asked as soon as she found her voice again. “And how did you wind up like this in the first place?”
“It was one of the last battles of the war. An enemy land had sent in a group of titans to attack an area just a few hundred miles from where I was posted. The others were becoming overwhelmed, so me and a few others stepped in to help. I regret to say that when all was said and done, we lost. What was left of our enemy went on to demolish entire cities in a matter of days before they were stopped by some of the other guardians further west. Not that really made any difference in the long run. It sounds like you have a pretty good idea of what happened shortly after.”
“98 percent of the human population destroyed,” Audrea murmured. “Along with most of the world’s governments, plunging us into another dark age.”
“That’s exactly right.” His voice had a melancholy note to it now. “As for me, my body was pierced multiple times, destroying many of the mechanisms that allowed me to move. I have been frozen in the exact same position since that day, stuck near the peak of this mountain. That was roughly 972 years ago.”
“Hold on just a second. You mean to tell me you’ve been up here all this time, and not one person came across you?”
“You’d be surprised at just how few people venture off the beaten path. Before the war, people climbed mountains for fun, but from what I can tell, it’s become far less commonplace now. My theory is that they became preoccupied with their own survival after everything went downhill. Everyone kept to the well traveled roads, avoiding treacherous terrain. Besides, it’s a big mountain, so even those that did go off exploring weren’t likely to come across me” Aloysius paused for a moment. “Come to think of it, you haven’t told me anything about yourself yet. How is it that you came to be on this mountain in the first place?”
Audrea looked at her brother, who’s breathing had finally returned to normal. “It was his idea, really. See, we’re part of this historical research group called ‘The Seekers of the Forgotten Age’. It’s pretty well known where we’re from, and we’ve actually managed to make some pretty impressive contributions. Basically, we go to the ruins of old cities from before the war, and try to learn more about them. We’re looking to understand their art, culture, and most importantly, their technology. Our hope is to eventually use what we’ve learned to restore humanity to its former glory. Anyways, we were on this trip to what remains of New York City. One of my favorite sites to visit, if I’m being honest. But on the way back, Andis thought it might be fun to try and get to the peak of this mountain. We had enough extra food to last us a week, and he figured it’d only take two or three days. I think he was inspired by some ancient climbing equipment we recovered when we were working or something.”
“As much as I wanted to avoid taking any unnecessary risks, I had to admit his idea was compelling. Halfway to the top though, the blizzard came out of nowhere, leaving us with no sense of direction. At some point, I guess we must have wound up on a frozen lake without realizing it, and I think I already told you the rest. Getting soaked to the bone like that did him no good against the blizzard, and I’ll admit, I kinda panicked. I wandered around for a while, dragging him after me, hoping against hope to come across a town or something, though I knew it was impossible. Then, by some miracle, I stumbled upon you.”
“I assure you, it is just as much a blessing for me as it is for you. If we Titans were capable of losing their sanity, mine would have been long gone by now,” he said. “By the way, I’m curious. What state would you say humanity is in now?”
“Depends on where you live. On this side of the ocean, the land’s divided up between a few hundred different factions. Some have gotten as far as using steam power again, while others still live in huts. I hear things are a little better overseas though. There’s some sort of democratic union down in Southern Africa, so I guess that’s at least something worth being happy about.”
“I suppose you’re from one of the more advanced tribes if you have the resources to do what you’re doing.”
“Yup,” Audrea bit her lip. “You know, I should be jumping up and down with joy just for having found you. I’ve been hoping to make a discovery like this my whole life. This is everything I’ve ever dreamed!”
“But you’re worried about your brother, isn’t that right? All you want now is to get him home.”
“Yeah, that’s right...”
Neither spoke for a few minutes after that.
“You know…” said the titan, almost hesitantly. “There may be a way I can get you back home right now. I think the blizzard’s died down enough that it just might work.”
“Really? Is it safe?”
“Safer than letting your brother go without proper medical treatment.”
“How does it work? Can you teleport people or something?”
“No, though I wish I could. But I’ve got the next best thing. One of my special features is that I have a delivery drone in my chest that I can use to send anything anywhere. It’s useful for transporting small things without having to go anywhere myself. Only problem is, it’s been disconnected from my main power source since the battle. But if someone could put a little of my power source into it manually, I could use it to fly the two of you wherever you need to go.”
“And how do I do that?”
“That stone you’re using as a heat source should be more than enough to get you where you need to go. Just put it in the fuel compartment, and presto! You’re on your way back home.”
“Please, you have to tell me how to get to it!”
“Of course I will,” he said in a soft voice. “After all, it’s my duty to serve humanity.”
Audrea followed the titan’s instructions to the letter. He led her to a lift on the other side of his leg, and told her exactly how to use it. It took her and her brother right up to his torso, where a small aircraft waited for her. This place looked exactly like the inside of his leg, except much bigger. There were massive holes in the walls, gashes left by some great and terrible ancient weapon. Bits of twisted metal and broken glass littered the floor. Luckily, it seemed like the drone was in some sort of gigantic protective box and had been shielded from most of the damage.
Through the holes, Audrea could just catch a glimpse of the outside world. The blizzard had finally cleared, and from this high up, she could see for miles. Off in the distance, she was even sure she could make out her own home village, though she might just have been imagining it.
“Thank you so much for everything.” Audrea said as she inserted the stone into the fuel compartment. “With any luck, we’ll meet again soon.”
“No, thank you. You have given me hope once again, human. Perhaps I may be of service to your kind once again.”
“You’d better believe it! Now that I know where to find you, I’ll be sure to send as many scientists and historians as I can to meet you. Your very existence is a miracle to people like me, you know that? You may well be the only being left on this planet that was alive before the great war. If I have my way, thousands will flock to this mountain to ask you about everything that came before. You’ll never have to be alone again.”
“You remind me of my old master, from a long time ago. People like you are the reason I believe humanity is worthy of my protection. Now get going and save your brother.”
After that, there was nothing else to say. Audrea hoisted her brother into the drone, then climbed inside herself. The engine roared and the propellers spun, blowing the lighter bits of rubbish all around the room. There was no need to direct its course, the drone knew where it was supposed to go. It slipped through one of the larger gaps in the Titan’s side, and ventured out once more into open air. With the skies clear now, Audrea turned around to see the sun just beginning to poke it’s head over the horizon, and in front of it, the Titan in all its glory. He sat there, bent on one knee, sword clutched in his left hand, tattered cape dancing in the breeze. From this distance, it was impossible to tell it’s size. Anyone who saw it now might think it nothing more than a strange armoured man, kneeling on the side of a mountain, with a great grin spread across his face.
At this moment, Andis stirred, and opened his eyes.
“Where are we?” He croaked. “What’s going on?”
Audrea smiled. “We’re racing towards the future, brother. It’s closer than ever, finally within our grasp, and we have been given the honor and privilege of introducing it.”