Cypress: a tall tree with dark green leaves that do not fall off in winter.
The golem had never felt pain before, for mercifully (given his purpose) his creator had decided upon a small list of human sensations that would be forever beyond his reach, forever ghosts of sense and memory. Still, despite the lack of searing agony that he should have been feeling, there was a deep and unignorable sense of wrongness. Something was within him, something that should not be.
A pair of polished steel almost titanium coloured eyes opened slowly, taking in the horrid mass of twisted metal and shattered glass that surrounded him. This wasn't right, this looked nothing like the Master's workshop, there were glassy obsidian coloured panels surrounded by small multicoloured squares, great drooping cables dislodged from the patterned rock ceiling. And above it all, a great white serpent formed into an interlocking square spiral.
Pushing himself from the leaning position he had awoken in, the metal wrist restrains barely registered as they snapped from the mere motion of his powerful body. Taking a long stride, the golem stepped out onto the metal stairs that stood before his containment pod and began to descend down into the ruined lab proper.
A cold morning wind curled it's way through the lab, though unclad as he was he did not feel the chill. Scorch marks and twisted bodies lay to his left and his right as he passed like some titanic spectre through this now-still violent diorama. Metallic eyes stared at a jagged crack torn in the side of the laboratory wall for a long moment before the golem stepped through and followed the crevasse to its conclusion. Stepping out into the morning light, it stood upon a remote cliff surrounded on all sides by a forest of cypress trees and the first few rays of the sun's warmth peeking over a distant mountain range.
The deer hunter had been watching from the treeline. She almost always kept to the trees, gingerly stepping out to drink from the stream at dusk with her rifle slung over her shoulder. Someone had to protect the rabbits from the ones who made the world ugly.
"The faceless ones are making a monster up there!" the hawk had cried. The rabbits had circled nervously at her feet as she strained to hear the details in the wind. That was three days before the big sounds began. The death sounds from the bad place were awful and strange.
They were so terrible that even the deer hunter was afraid. She ran back into the forest to the small ledge in the rock, huddling with all the rabbits in the dark and trying not to shake. She would murmur softly to them that everything was going to be fine. They did not believe her.
"The world is breaking," one of the rabbits sobbed. Others worried that the monster was going to come for them too. What would they do? Where would they hide? She had held onto them until the dawn.
She unclasped one of the skins she wore and covered the rabbits. "Stay here," she told them all. "Don't move until I come back."
After the first few steps she stopped, thinking she might need to tell them what to do if she didn't come back. This was until she realized that if she did not return, there would be nothing to do. She lowered her chin and pulled her rifle closer, determined that she would find the monster. She would wait and watch. Then she would shoot him twice. Once from afar, the next shot would be after she came close enought to make sure his eyes were dead.
The golem knelt down, long dark hair covering his shoulders like a cloak as he pressed a massive hand to the rocky ground.
This wasn't right. This wasn't where he was supposed to be.
His metallic irises narrowed with a snap and whine, his brow furrowed and the being kneeled-stock still, trying desperately to remember where and when he was supposed to be. It was all so elusive, his memories like stained glass smashed and scattered to the winds. A castle, a walled village, thatched roofs...but that was all. Nothing at all like the prison of steel and circuits he had just left, nothing like that Snake's den.
Slowly he raised his gaze to his surroundings, eyes focusing again as his vision came back to him, the eyes that could see that which was not meant to dwell among human showing him what around him may be a threat to those that he was created to protect.
Sighting the old Mosin-Nagant on him, the deer hunter tried desperately to steady her hands. She'd never seen a monster before and she was afraid. It took all her effort not to shake and she worked to steady her breath, focusing on the slight breeze that might affect her shot.
The monster moved slowly enough to make her wonder if he might be hurt. It was difficult to see much from her hiding place so after a few minutes of following his movements, she edged closer to the frosted field that separated them. Her eyes narrowed as she realized what she was not seeing as he moved. There were no telltale signs of exhalation in the air, no ripples of heat from him in the cold. When he went to his knees, the deer hunter knew it was time.
It was an odd feeling to think that she might die in a few moments' time, but there was no other choice. The deer hunter had to move closer to have any chance of killing the monster. She had to protect the rabbits. If the only way to do so was to sacrifice herself to give them a bit of time to run deeper into the forest that is what she would do. It comforted her to think that she might end her existence doing what she'd been born to do. She was the guardian, the protector of her forest. This monster would have to end her before he would invade her home.
With a deep breath she moved nearer, her rifle trained on his head. She advanced slowly, readying herself should he charge; but he did not. When he finally raised his head and looked at her with that first uncertain gaze, the deer hunter opened her mouth in surprise. She lowered her rifle and tentatively made her way to the giant creature. Standing there in front of him, she was barely tall enough to be face-to-face with him on his knees. Her own warm brown eyes were curious as she cocked her head a bit, searching for his scent. Finally, the deer hunter reached out with a gentle hand to touch the giant's head.
"You are no monster," she murmured softly, looking into the pale eyes that reflected her own image back to her. "You are just lost."
With the care and gentleness of one trying to move without giving fright to an alerted animal, the dreadnought tilted his gaze the minor distance it took to catch the eyes of this new being before it.
His voice was low and gravelly but the words were softly spoken, "Do you know who I am? I cannot remember."
It was almost as if her touch was enough to hold this hulking being at bay, so still and tranquil he remained kneeling. So odd he looked, unclad and pale kneeling there amidst the untamed wilds and cypress trees all around.
"I remember... I protect the weak... From those that would prey upon them. That is why I was made."
Slowly, very slowly, his right hand raised up to touch at her wrist and nudge her hand from the top of his head and into the palm of his.
"Do you need help?"
His palm is cool to the touch. Her lips curled a bit at the edges. "You are a protector, like me," she nodded, looking at him. "I think perhaps I am the one who is here to protect you. How did you escape the bad place?"
She motioned to the facility that lies in ruins above, still smoldering and echoing with the throes of everything dead inside.
A single huge hand pushes back his long dark hair from his face, "I do not know. I awoke and it was thus." The hand moved from his head to where his right arm met with his massive torso, "They changed me.. Added something. I can feel it within."
The golem frowned for a moment before looking back to The deer hunter, "I think you -are- here to protect me, and yet.. You are not human?" He looked her over curiously, her form outlined in flickering light in his vision.
The question took her aback. It was one she'd never considered. Was she human? She did not think so. Humans were cruel and complicated. Humans had legs that ended with ridiculously tender feet. Her own legs finished in delicately shaped hooves that were made for running in the rough terrain. She brought a free hand to an antler as she considered her answer.
The deer hunter gave the giant's hand a squeeze as a sign for him to rise. "I am just the deer hunter," she said to him with a slight shrug, starting to feel a bit nervous at being so long out in the clearing.
"We need to go," she told him. "It's not safe here. They will come for you."
There was a pause as she scanned the forest and gauged her options. "What they put into you?," she asked without turning back to him, "Is it something bad?"
The golem rose as silently bidden, his form unfolding from the kneel until she stood completely within his shadow, "I will follow you, fellow hunter."
Due to his height, his hand slipped away from hers as he stood, falling away to his side where he closed it into a fist. With a slight clench, his skin rippled and shifted as it changed from the smooth and unbroken surface it was to something that looked more human, corded with muscle and tendon and hair beneath well-tanned skin. Now looking much more like a man, he shook his head in response to her question, "I do not know. It feels of metal, not earth. Smooth and polished."
"If you become a bad thing I will have to kill you," she tells him matter-of-factly, walking a few steps ahead. "This way," she calls back to him after running nimbly ahead toward the trees. She finds a clearing large enough to allow him to disappear with her into the forest without felling any of the smaller trees. She feels him moving carefully behind her, but as they enter the treeline her focus is on signaling to her rabbits that all is well. She tells the birds to signal ahead and the mice scramble to relay the good news.
There is no monster. The message carries well ahead of them so that by the time she reaches the cave, the rabbits are waiting. Their noses twitch curiously as they huddle together and whisper to one another, still uncertain. "This is my new friend," the deer hunter tells the gathering.
She takes her rifle from her shoulder and sets it down to make the point that they have nothing to fear from the giant. "His name is..." She looks up to him but he says nothing. The rabbits wait and start to move back from him. Everything needs a name. How can he have no name? Did the bad place steal his name from him? She gives the giant small nod and reaches up for his hand.
"His name is Cypress," she tells the rabbits, "Like our trees."
The giant pondered her words as they walked, doing a considerable job of not disturbing any of the flora as they traveled, the gait of a hunter coming as naturally to him as breathing.
Was he a bad thing? The thought caused his mind to go hazy as it tried to grapple with whatever implications that might bring. He had been made of by humans, that much was clear to him at least. An expression of their fear of the dark and those that dwelt at the edges of human civilisation. But just as human were hunted by nosferatu for blood, demon for anima, or lycanthropes for food, there were others that were hunted by humans just the same. Did they not also deserve of protecting?
He tried to force such thoughts from his mind, there would be time to sort this out later, he hoped.
Upon reaching the cave, he tucked his head down as low as he was able to fit within and sits down cross-legged a short ways from the rabbits to not cause undue alarm.
"Cypress." He whispered to himself as she names him to the rabbits.
The rabbits repeat the name to each other and then to him. Cypress. Cypress. Cypress. They circle and hop under his extraordinarily large feet, making a game of it in their relief at his being friend and not foe. The deer hunter chase the rabbits away from his feet and motions for Cypress to take a seat near the rock ledge. She jumps gracefully onto the ledge so as to be able to look into his eyes directly.
She feigns displeasure as the rabbits squeal and run trails around Cypress' legs. In truth, she is inexplicably happy. Cypress with his eyes that shine like moons when he looks at her is the most exciting thing that has ever happened in her forest. It isn't long before the other animals begin to filter from the trees to get a glimpse of the monster from the bad place. The hawk circled above the trees still not convinced that it was safe.
"He is not a monster," the rabbits insisted as they played a game of hopping onto and then off of his legs. "He is Cypress."
For his part, Cypress looks like a man bewildered, however he stands and carefully makes his was over to the ledge and sits down once more. Resting his hands on his knees he looks across at the Deer hunter, "I thank you for your help. Your home seems so peaceful.. Such tranquility means that this must be a special place."
Cypress is quiet for a long moment as he trades glances with the deer Hunter, his brow deeply furrowed and mind working slowly at the nagging problem that will not leave his mind, "I do not wish to bring bad things here, I do not know if I will be sought out again." His hands clasp, fingers intertwining gentle before settling back down in his lap.
He tilts his head, causing a tumble of long dark hair to fall upon one bare shoulder, "Your purpose is to protect this place?" Cypress asks.
The deer hunter reached out a hand to stroke his hair again. It was softer than she would have guessed and it fascinates her. "It is what I do," she answered, watching the mice join the rabbits in dancing around Cypress' legs. "Now I will protect you too."
"She will protect you too!" the rabbits cheered to him and one another.
She moved closer and dropped to his lap, placing her ear to his chest. "I don't hear anything bad. Where is your heart, Cypress? And why is it you have no breath?" Her questions are gentle and without judgment of any sort. As strange a creature as he is, she is certain that he is not a bad thing. She hopes her impression is correct. The thought of killing him fills her with more sadness than it should.
Cypress peers down at a field mouse that had hopped onto his hand, watching it scamped over the expanse of his palm as the deer hunter came to him. As her ear touches his chest, the skin there warms in response to her, seeming to mimic the temperature of her body. The change spreads over his form, whatever that force than animates him seeking to seem all the more living.
"I was not born of flesh and blood. My master shaped me from the earth, spoke the many names of Adonai over me and gave me form and purpose." His head dips a little, his cheek gently resting upon the top of her head as she listens at his chest, "I hope to become more than I am, more than I was intended to be."
His chest heaves in a silent sigh, a facsimile of biological reaction as no breath passes his lips, "If only I could remember." A few quiet moment pass as a tentative smile touches his features, "I will just have to make new memories, have new experiences. It will make sense in time."
"You are not so different from us," she tells him, moving her head to look at him. "All of us come from the earth and we have many names."
When he smiles, her heart skips a little. She matches it with her own, feeling the warmth of his chest where her head rested before. "What is Adonai? Is this your tribe?"
"I am glad then, I have been different from those around me for as long as I could remember." The irises of his alloyed eyes contract and then widen before contracting again, focusing on the proud creature in his lap.
"I think Adonai was the god of my creator. I was told that they were the god of all things, but I don't think that's true. I've never spoken to them." Cypress shrugged, blinking over to one side as a curious corvid landed upon his shoulder and gave the pale golem a look over with glassy eyes and cocked head, "Tell me more about you. Where are you from? What are you?" Settled now as he was, the questions began to spill forth from Cypress like the beginnings of a flood.
The deer hunter furrowed her brow and frowned a bit. She had never had to ponder such a question. "I am Eilit. I am from here," she says, looking around as the rabbits and mice giggled together over Cypress.
Eilit motions with a nod of her antlers in the direction of the clearing. "My mother went to the bad place when I was very small. She never came back." There is a tentative, hopeful pause. "Did you see my mother?
"Greetings Eilit, I suppose know I am the being called Cypress." He purses his lips in a facsimile of human thought as he considered for a moment, "Does she look as you do? Even if not, I could find her for you, I know I am able to do such a thing." Something deep within him responded to her tentatively look, coaxing him to place a gentle, reassuring hand at the small of her back.
"No trail can escape my gaze, no matter how faint or aged." Where did those words come from? Something told to him so long ago that the memory was naught but dust, perhaps?
"I think she looked like me, but without these," she answers, touching one of the slender ivory points on her head. "I remember that she was worried, and she left her gun for me."
The chatter of the small creatures quietens and a grey fox steps out from the bed of ferns nearby. "She has been gone a very long time, Cypress. We took Eilit in and cared for her. Now she cares for us." The fox's amber eyes are watchful and full of the memory of Eilit's mother being dragged across the snow in the clearing by the bad men, full of the memory of the red trail she left behind that disappeared in the next storm.
The golem nodded, gently sliding his arm underneath Eilit and bringing it close to his chest while bending it at the elbow, forming a sitting space for her with his forearm as the bottom and his chest as the back of the chair. Slowly he untucked his legs from beneath himself and standing up, taking care to not dislodge any of the rabbits or mice too violently from his person.
"Show me where she was taken from. The knowing of the truth of these things is important." He glanced over towards the fox for a moment before making sure Eilit was comfortable where she perched against his bare skin.
Eilit brightened at the thought of learning something of her mother's fate, just as the fox gave a soft sigh and looked at Cypress sadly. Eilit steadied a delicate hoof to move herself up to sit upon Cypress' shoulder as they moved carefully back toward the clearing.
"As you wish," the fox said, her own voice heavy with the sadness of knowing what Cypress was likely to find. "Stay here, the rest of you," she told the others. If Eilit was to learn the truth of her mother's fate, the fox saw no sense in her sharing her heartbreak with all of the silly empty headed rabbits and mice. They did not understand the value of a child's tears for her mother, nor of a mother's fiercely protective nature of her child.
As they walked, Cypress fell silent for a long time before glancing down to address the grey fox, "I realise your trepidation. The knowing is important though, without knowing we are incomplete. Stuck forever looking back in time, like me." He stops at the edge of his clearing, "Does that make sense to you? I am poor at explaining."
Even as they stood at the border of the meadow, steel eyes were already scanning over its expanse, tiny pinpricks of spherical light hanging in the space just in front of his eyes.
The fox barely looks at him as they walk. "She is not you," the fox answers. "I have learned many things that I would have rather not known, but it is not my place to choose for her." Looking out over the frosted expanse, the fox sits and lifts a paw.
"This is where they took her," she says, standing again to pace in a nervous circle. Her eyes move to Eilit's face, watching her with the same worry as if the deer hunter were her own kit. She does not like this stranger and his disruptive presence in their forest. He came from the bad place so who is to say that he is not one of the bad men? The fox's nose twitches as she watches the giant, figuring her own plan in case he tries to take Eilit away.
Cypress does not respond for almost an entire minute, his eyes tracing along the paths that had long since disappeared into the Stygian loam of the forest, forgetting all trace of what had happened here. Finally the pinpricks of light faded from his eyes and he reached up to take Eilit by the waist and gently lift her down to the ground again, sinking to one knee once he had done so.
"And you truly wish to know, Eilit? Even if it is painful? There is no unknowing once the words have been spoken." He ran one hand through his hair, pulling the midnight locks back over his shoulders.
Eilit's eyes widen, warm and brown but fearful as if readying to dart away from a predator. She reaches to smooth Cypress' hair out of his eyes. "The bad ones hurt her, didn't they?"
Her question is almost a whisper as she leans against the giant's knee. The grey fox moves closer, nuzzling Eilit's leg reassuringly. The deer hunter nods slightly. "Yes," she says. "I would like to know."
"As you wish.." The low rumble of his voice was nary more than a whisper upon the wind now, "She rests now, little one. Rests in the embrace of the earth peacefully." A hand lights upon her shoulder gently, his expression one of deep melancholy as he gazes down at her, but this time the expression doesn't have the look of a mimicry of human emotion. It looks genuine.
"And I see where the ones you call the bad ones went. Even beyond the ruins where you find me, they left this place, left this forest completely it would seem." His glance shifts to the grey fox, expression fading back into impassiveness.
There is a long silence. The deer hunter takes his hand and watches everything. She sees the clouds move, the sun sink a bit, the trees at the forest's edge. "She comes back every spring to see you, Eilit," the fox says softly. "All the bright and soft things that return each season are her way of saying your name."
"I have missed her for such a long time," Eilit says slowly and quietly. Confused, she searches Cypress' eyes with her own. "Why does it feel like so much more missing now that I know where she is?"
Cypress squeezes her hand reassuringly, "The arrival of certainty brings the final tide of grief, the missing is made new again. I am sorry that it was I that brought this to you, perhaps I am a monster." The golem's shoulders slump ever so slightly as he sunk down to one knee, bringing himself more in line with Eilit's height.
Something about this struck Cypress as familiar, the ghost of a memory skirted the edges of his comprehension, like a sensation conjured by some fleeting scent or word. This had been his duty some time before, he was sure.
Taking Cypress' face between her hands, Eilit's large eyes reflect in his own. "You are no monster, Cypress," she tells him. "Everything dies, even mothers."
"Knowing things does not make you a monster." She pats his cheek and gives a smile. "It only makes you wise."
The fox walks nervously between the deer hunter's legs, her nose twitching nervously. "You said the bad people are gone? All of them?" She paces back and forth a bit. "We need to go. We need to go before others come to the bad place."
Eilit does not shift her gaze. She stares intently at Cypress, concerned that he should be happy but confused at the feeling that his happiness matters more to her than her own. It is an odd sensation, but not altogether unpleasant. "Where do you need to go, Cypress? Is there somewhere you belong?"
"If purpose can be belonging, then I must find those that need my protection. I still feel the need to do what I was constructed for, to safeguard the weak from those that would prey upon them. To hunt the supernatural predators of the world." His odd metallic eyes seem soft as they look down at Eilit, her hands framing his face.
His visage tilts down more, "Which means seeking somewhere far from here, with more people to protect. Perhaps to find out more about where I can from and why I was brought to The Bad Place." Cypress's hand rises to rub Eilit's shoulder reassuringly, "And maybe to eventually learn what it is to be a living being."
She looks at him and the realization of what he tells her feels like an arrow. Eilit doesn't understand. He is a living being. Of course, he is. He is tall as a tree. HIs eyes are the color of the moon at night. His face is warm when she touches him. She doesn't need to inspect further to know that he is male, decidedly so. She doesn't understand why living is something one has to learn.
Far from here. The thought makes her sad. How will she know where he is? What if the place he goes is another bad place? What if they hurt him?
Eilit knows the answer to the question before she asks. "So you are leaving?"
Her voice shakes a bit and her bottom lip quivers. "If you leave, you have to give me something to keep until you return," she says in a sad whisper. She looks up at him. "Will you come visit? Once you learn how to be alive? Maybe you can help me protect the rabbits." She gives a tentative smile. "They are not very smart and always need minding."
"If you want me to, I will certainly come visit." The giant closed his hand a moment before extending his arm out to her with palm open, a small onyx-coloured stone balanced in it, "Just speak that you need me and I shall come to you quick as the northern wind."
Slowly he reaches out to touch her shoulder reassuringly, "And if you ever desire to see more of the world than this woods, I will show you. And keep you safe." The craggy-contours of his visage were cast in blinding sincerity of purpose as he pledged himself to this small woman, "I will see you again, Eilit of the Woods, and until then I will smile when I think of you."