The Porcelain Phoenix (Story)

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The Porcelain Phoenix (Story)

Postby Domarr » September 30th, 2010, 1:31 pm

Over three years ago I posted the bio for the porcelain phoenix for a contest here. A few weeks ago I decided pick that character back up and do something with it. From that rough bio, I wrote this story.

The Porcelain Phoenix

We live in a land that is probably quite different than your own. You are familiar with stories of good conquering evil I’m sure. Well that didn’t happen in this land. In fact it’s been almost ten years since the last band of so-called heroes came tromping through our lands. Their greatest folly is that they went on babbling about how they were going to “liberate” us from “the evil oppression” and “lift the darkness” that they supposed had befallen our land. I don’t think they made it to the second village before they were met with an angry mob. There were peasants with pitchforks, neo-necromancers, and a few wily witches. Ha! The company turned around so fast and scurried back from whence they came. The only thing that they “liberated” was their own gear they left behind.

I tell you this because I know you find it hard to believe. But we do live in a, sort of, happiness. I suppose if there is any such thing. I mean we all have our problems. Problems keep life interesting and if we don’t have them we are faced with terrible boredom, but life goes on and we find ways to cope. There are laws here and punishments for trespassing upon the laws just like anywhere else. It’s just that some things you call “evil” like necromancy, worshiping gods that require human sacrifice, and a myriad of other practices you label unholy are perfectible acceptable here in Kalluhm. Honestly, as a people we are perfectly content with our king and one could say we find happiness. So too a quaint little family who lived on the outskirts of Rataphon were in this state of happiness.

The farmer stretched his long legs with each cautious step. An arrow was nocked in his bow, but not yet drawn. His slightly sunken eyes scanned the bare branches and shrubbery, his boney cheeks tensed. It had been a harsh winter and there were many dangers in these woods. Ron was a good husband and father who tried hard to provide for his family, but he was not the best hunter. He desperately hoped to come across something large like a boar or a deer, for the winter had been harsh and he so loved smoked meats. Not to mention that all he had any luck with as of late were the occasional squirrel or rabbit that barely made a meal for one day. His mouth watered in anticipation as he thought of the delectable smoked pork or venison jerky.

Ron stopped suddenly, he thought he heard something. Slowly he moved in the direction of the faint noise. He wondered what kind of animal it could be, was it a bird he had never heard before? Then he realized he knew the sound all too well, it was of a child crying. He thought of his own little daughter and un-nocked his arrow, then hurried to the source of the weeping. He pushed through the last bit of brush and couldn’t believe his eyes. It wasn’t a child, well not exactly. It was a doll! Yet, there it was animated by what he supposed was necromancy. And he was right, for necromancy is the art manipulating life force. This was most commonly associated with giving a false life to those things which naturally would have no life, such as creating undead. However, every now and again a particularly skilled necromancer would take it a step further. Instead of simply returning a false life to something that once had it, he could give a life to something that was never intended to possess it in the first place. When life is given that animates something inanimate this creates a golem. Ron didn’t know such intricacies of the art but he had always possessed a fascination with magic. He just never had the opportunity for any formal training.

Perhaps what happened next was a result of that fascination, or maybe he sought to unlock the golem’s secrets and learn a bit of magic first hand, or maybe it was a simple man’s pity as he watched the little creature in such genuine sadness.

After a moment of awe he finally gathered his thoughts enough to speak, “What’s the matter little one, why do you cry?”

“I-I’m all alone.” She began to sob again.

“Well I do see you are alone here but… Surely you have a master. Where is your creator?”

“I do not know. I cannot remember.” She replied as she slowly began to regain her composure.

“Well you must remember something.”

“My master took me out to play. It was quite pleasing. We were flying… It’s hard to remember.”

“I know it’s hard but try, what happened next?”

“I was falling and then there was fire and … it was terrible. I woke up here and I was alone.

The farmer looked up from the doll at the surrounding forest. Sure enough just a few yards off he could barely see a charred clearing through the branches. If the farmer knew anything about magic it was that if it wasn’t properly controlled it could be very dangerous. “So you were flying…” He thought out loud.

“Yes, it was for play.”

“Something happened and you fell?” He took two steps in the direction of the charred clearing.

“That sounds right.”

“Well child- er I mean, well I’d say something went terribly wrong during the flight. That is when you fell, but I dare say your master perished in this magical explosion.” The farmer concluded.

The golem’s painted on porcelain lips began to tremble as she lost her composure once more, “So then I truly am alone.”

“Oh poor thing… You know I have a little girl who would love to play with you. There aren’t any other children nearby for her to play with. Would you like to come home with me?”

The golem’s sniffling slowly abated and she nodded her head a bit as she said, “I do enjoy play... and I dislike being alone.”

With excitement both to comfort the golem and in his own anticipation the farmer said, “So then you’ll come with me?”

“Yes, I will follow you.”

So it was that a three and a half foot tall child-like doll with rosy red cheeks, pretty painted lips, and red curly hair followed a simple but joyful farmer back to his family and his home.

When the two approached the small wooden cottage they noticed a winding smoke fade into the sky as it left the chimney. The farmer was carrying the doll for his steps were much larger than hers and it had been difficult for the golem to keep up. Just outside his house the famer put the little doll down and said, “Now you wait here a moment while I tell my family about you. My little Emily will be so pleased to meet you.” The golem nodded and her smooth painted porcelain face crinkled with excitement.

“Susan, I’m home.” He called as he stepped through the front door. His wife turned from the pot where she was stirring the stew and smiled. Little Emily jumped up from where she was playing, ran across the room exclaiming, “Daddy!” as she jumped on to his leg and latched on in a great big hug.

“How was the hunt dear?” Susan asked and then greeted her husband with kiss.

“Well, not so well. I didn’t catch anything.”

“Potato and carrot stew again I suppose.”

Not exactly sure where to begin Ron slowly said, “But I did come across something, dear.”

“Oh what was that?” Susan asked as she moved back to the large pot over the fire.

“Well… Oddly enough it was a golem.”

With concern she responded, “Oh dear! Did you trespass onto some wizard’s keep?”

“No, I believe this one’s master came to some tragic end.” Ron explained. “The strangest part is that the golem is not the usual sort that simply obeys direct commands. This one must have been created by a true master, and has the demeanor of a child.”

“Oh that is unique. But why would anyone want a servant with the consciousness of a child?” Susan asked.

“From what I gather, I’d say she was created as a child’s playmate and well that brings me to something else.”

Susan was now on guard. Her husband had a knack for getting into trouble. “Yes Ron.”

Ron watched his wife’s face closely scanning for any sign of disapproval; not seeing any he pressed forward, “Well, this golem was crying. Like a little girl, and said she was all alone and I just figured that so often Emily longed for a playmate I…” Ron cringed and braced himself for his wife’s reaction, “I brought her home with me.”

“Ron! What if her master IS still alive! Do you have any idea what a wizard would do if he found out you kidnapped his golem? Especially if it is as you say one with real sentience! No, Ron, absolutely not.”

“But honey,” Ron stepped towards his wife to soothe her, “Just meet her you will change your mind. She is so sweet. Honestly, some kind wizard must have made her as a child’s playmate. There is just no other explanation.” He lifted her hand rubbing it gently to calm her fears, “Not to mention, all evidence indicates the creator perished.” Ron pleaded with his wife, “Please, think of Emily.”

It was then that Emily, who had been growing impatient as the discussion went on spoke up, “Mommy can we please just meet the doll. I would love to have a doll of my own.”

With a sigh of exasperation she pulled her hand away from her husband and conceded, “Fine I’ll take a look at this golem, but I’m not making any promises.”

“Yay!” Emily exclaimed. “Daddy where is she?”

“Follow me, she is waiting outside.” With that Emily clung to her father’s pants and followed him outside. Susan wiped her hands on her apron and followed the two.

“Well Emily here she is. The…” He hesitated, not knowing what to refer to her as he hadn’t thought to ask if golem had a name, “the doll.”

Emily peered from behind her father’s legs. The doll was gorgeous! Immediately she was enchanted and jumped out from behind her father and said, “Hi, I’m Emily.”

The doll smiled big and said, “Nice to meet you Emily. Do you like to play?” With a nod from Emily the two started to run around giggling and laughing as they played.

Susan’s heart melted the moment she first saw her daughter playing with the doll. She had never seen Emily so happy. When Susan was growing up she had brothers and sisters to play with but she and Ron had only been able to have Emily. Also there were no other children nearby. How could she refuse her daughter the right to be a child and play with other children? Each time she thought of a new reason to protest her heart wavered until all opposition melted away. Maybe the golem wasn’t so bad, she felt, so long as she kept her eye on it. “Oh Ron… Thank you.” She said as he put his arm around her.

That first night the doll, which Emily quickly began calling Ardea on the account of her red hair, stayed downstairs on Susan’s insistence despite Emily’s pleas. Every day the two went out to play. They played tag and chase and had tea parties. It was the best of fun. Emily grew to love Ardea and Ardea loved Emily.

Ron went out each day to prepare the soil for crops or to hunt, and each time he came home to the two little ones and his wife, Emily would exclaim, “Daddy!” and run up to him and give him a great big hug. After a few days of this, Ardea began to imitate Emily and do the very same thing. The first time it happened Ron just looked at his wife with an innocent expression of “What do I do?” His wife simply shrugged and turned back to her tasks in the kitchen. Deep down Ron came to like the hugs, one on each leg. As he watched the two play together he came to see Ardea as one of the family.

Susan was much more cautious of the golem than was her daughter or husband, and watched with eagle-eyed perception and a mother’s scrutiny. The doll did seem to enjoy playing just as much as Emily did, and the doll never was rough or showed signs of anger. But still, there was something about the doll that Susan just couldn’t allow herself to trust. At least, not until the day that Emily and Ardea were playing by the wood pile. Susan took her eye off them for just a moment and then she heard Emily scream in terror. A viper was curled under some of the stacked logs and the two playing had indirectly disturbed it’s rest. Susan ran out of the house toward her daughter just in time to see Ardea react with uncanny reflexes. The golem caught the viper mid-strike. Susan wasted no time and scooped up the terrified child away from the dangerous situation.

Ardea calmly asked Susan, “What should I do with it?”

“Get rid of it!” she screamed hysterically, “Get rid of the terrible little creature now!”

While the mother had intended for Ardea to kill it, she did not explicitly order her to do so. Susan watched as Ardea simply took the snake a good ways into the woods and released it.

“Why didn’t you kill it?” Susan asked once Ardea returned from the woods.

“You did not say to kill it, and… I don’t think I could.” Ardea replied.

Susan knew very little about magic but she knew golems were supposed to follow orders. Confused she asked, “What do you mean you don’t think you could?”

“I-I don’t know. I just do not think I would be allowed to kill the snake.”

“So there are some things that you aren’t allowed to do?” The mother asked.

“I guess so.” Ardea replied.

Despite the fact that Ardea failed to dispose of the snake the way Susan had intended she was comforted in the fact that there are some things Ardea was not allowed to do. And so Susan’s fears were finally laid to rest for she now knew that Ardea was not allowed to do any harm.

It was then that Ardea had finally become a member of the family. She began to sleep in Emily’s room and the two were inseparable. She was loved and life went on happily for the family for several weeks. And Ron was finally able to kill a big fat boar.

“I’m out to chop some wood, honey, I’ll watch the girls. You rest a while.” Ron tenderly said to his wife.

“Oh thank you, dear, I’m so glad you were able to stay home and help out around the house today. I really appreciate it.” She replied as she gave him a kiss.

Emily and Ardea cheered with joy as they ran outside. Ron didn’t have to keep as much firewood as he did during the winter but he had been so busy with hunting and the crops that the pile was getting low and it was past time to chop more.

“Now girls keep away from the wood pile, it can be dangerous when I’m chopping wood.” He paused a moment to watch the girls run off just a bit further before he began to chop wood.

After a half-hour or so the girls began a game of chase. In her excitement Emily had forgotten of her father’s caution and ran right between the wood pile and the shed. Ardea was so close behind her that she reached out her hand to grab Emily’s and tag her it. In that very moment Ron was swinging down on a log and his aim was a bit off-center. The lighter part of the log flew off like an arrow heading straight for the girls.

The log struck Ardea hard in her brittle porcelain face. Ron had just enough time to turn and see tiny red cracks splintered across her face and body like a bright red spider’s web. Suddenly the golem erupted in a violent explosion that threw Ron back against the cottage. Logs, dirt, grass, and tools from the destroyed shed flew in all directions. He blacked out when a log hit him in the head.

Susan heard the loud explosion and came running out of the house. “Ron! Emily! What’s going on?” She saw the aftermath. Tools, logs, bits of fire and… her daughter’s charred and bloodied dress and broken porcelain were everywhere. Then she watched in horror as the small bits of blackened porcelain began to move. Slowly they gathered with larger bits. Even a whole porcelain arm floated towards the center of the crater. Ardea reformed right before her eyes. The charred parts regained the color and quickly she was whole and unscathed.

There was a look of horror on Ardea’s face, almost worse than Susan’s own. A dread understanding awakened in Ardea’s mind and she burst into tears as she looked around. There was no question she had caused all this. She remembered it all. Even before the first accident. It was no accident. Her master had dropped her in the middle of the forest. That was the first time she exploded. She remembered how painful it was each time. Yes, when her porcelain broke she felt it! It was terrible, and she could remember it all! Also, she knew her way home and she knew all of her commands, and she despised it. She wasn’t allowed to kill any creature… other than humans. That was what her master commanded. The anguish filled her, it was overwhelming. She wished she could collapse. She wished she could just stop being. She wished she had never been made. Hatred mixed in with her anguish, hatred for her creator. Why would someone create such a monster like herself? She had killed Emily, her best friend. She loved Emily. Emily played with her. Her master made her and had all but forgotten her. He never played with her. But what was worse is that Emily was dead. The frustration was overwhelming and then her commands kicked in. She had to return to her master, and report to him everything that had happened.

Susan was horrified, but so overcome with disbelief that she could barely cry. She couldn’t scream though she wanted to. Her soul burned with agonizing pain, but she could barely breathe. She managed to ask between gasping breaths, “What did you do?”

Ardea’s painted eyes met Susan’s, the woman she had come to call mother. What would she say? What could she say? “I...” She was so overwhelmed with grief and hatred for her creator she couldn’t say anything else.

In broken sobs Susan asked, “Where’s Emily?”

Ardea look at the tiny piece of flesh that was the last remnant of Emily’s hand still clasped in her own and said, “I killed her…”

Susan saw the hand and fell to the ground screaming. She did not have the strength to lift herself. She did not have the will to ever lift herself again.

“I have to return to my master now. I am sorry. I cannot disobey him.” Ardea’s feet began to move almost on their own, as she did not want them to move. She didn’t want to return to that damned psychotic monster. She hated him and yet she could not disobey him. She realized now her purpose in life was to live in this kind of torture and there was nothing she could ever do about it.

When Ron regained consciousness he looked at the destruction around him. Ardea was nowhere to be found. His wife was conscious but all sanity had left her. She was a living shell of a woman and he became the hollow shell of a man. They were left without a child, without joy, without any semblance of life or light in their eyes for the rest of their lives.

And so Ardea, as they so aptly named her, returned to my keep. She returned to me and had to tell me everything she saw and heard and felt. I already knew it, but it was so much fun to watch Ardea tell me her account of the story in her own words. So you see we live in a, sort of, happiness. I mean we all have our problems and if we don’t have many problems we are faced with terrible boredom, but life goes on and we find ways to cope. I am a necromancer there are not many problems that trouble me so I’m faced with terrible boredom. But I’ve learned to cope and find entertainment in everyday life.
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