The Pact (Nivan, Birdy)

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  1. Conrad Joshka stared down at the pieces he'd assembled. For the hundredth time, he turned his eyes away from his work to take in his surroundings. He wasn't comfortable here, in the heart of an ancient forest, at the base of a great tree. He felt vulnerable. Like an intruder. His eyes turned back to the assembled mechanisms, joints, and plates that made up the new body he'd put together. The breastplate shone silver, and he could catch a distorted reflection of his familiar features in the plate.

    He was a pale young man, with dark hair and a bold nose. Not unattractive, but neither was he the sort of man to draw undue attention to his appearance. He wore a pin-striped black suit of a fine tailor's cut, and a pair of pristine white gloves had been tucked into his breast pocket. He was rather regretting his choice of attire for this particular outing, but there was no turning back.

    There was a little hatch in the center of the thing's chest, which stood open to reveal a vacant cavity. Reaching in, Conrad placed a small, sturdy container into the fittings within. A soul receptacle, he'd called it. He closed the hatch, and looked up to the vacant body's expressionless face. He'd given articulated limbs, joints, and a jaw. He'd even attached sliding plates to it's face to allow for expression. Cables and wires beneath the metal plates served for muscles and tendons, and a network of insulated copper wiring would even serve as a rudimentary nervous system.

    Only that was ridiculous, because the mechanical servant had no source of power. No will, no spark of life. He was no Frankenstein, and this was no monster.

    But strange things happened in the old places of the world, on the days, and nights where the veil between the living and the dead grew thin.

    "Old spirits," Spoke the young man. "I bring you a body. In exchange, I ask only for servitude until the day of my death. The blink of an eye, for beings so old as you."

    Silence met him.

    He glanced down to his mahcination. No movement. No life. He glanced back at his gathered retainers, and dismissed them with a frustrated wave of his hand.

    He hadn't expected it to work, but even still, his disappointment was nearly overwhelming. He sat down on the ground, careless of the dirt, and fallen leaves that surrounded him, and put his back to the bole of the ancient tree, beside his failed creation. Shadows grew long, and the young man grew weary. His eyes closed, and he found himself strangely comfortable, despite the chill of the autumn air.

    He slept.
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  2. All things take time. The first spark of life in an elephant would take two years until it was ready to emerge into the world. Luckily for Conrad, his wait would be nowhere so long. All the same, time was the unlabeled requisite ingredient of the spell he had tried to cast, and time was the cost for the sound of his call to be carried deep enough to be heard. Time, too, was the cost for the summoned to come.

    It had been a long time since the sound of that call had resonated its way through the earth. The words were rarely ever the same, but the impression, that never changed. It was a call for loyalty, at a cost that seemed like nothing to those who would die anyways. And, perhaps, depending on the truth of the life after death, if there was one at all, there truly was no cost. It did not matter to the thing slowly rising through the hot layers of the core, through the grains of soil and the deep-seeking roots of the old trees. It was satisfied with the trade. To some the promise of service might seem like slavery, but it was also a freedom.

    The dirt moved slowly at first, one grain at a time. It gathered into small mounds, reaching up in precarious towers for the metal structure it had been offered. The grains explored it curiously, directed by the consciousness behind them. The bodies were always different. The simplest, fashioned thousands of years ago, had been made of mud, with nothing more resembling a body than a rough mound of a head and stumps for arms. The call had still been accepted, and the master had not wished for anything with more depth than a simple dirt servant to mindlessly do his bidding. That was all that had been given in return. Once the offered body had been an actual body, the victim of a madman who wanted his dead lover returned to life. He had not gotten his wish, but the shock of seeing her body move had broken him the rest of the way, and the summoned had done its best to be an adequate lover. This was one of the intricate ones that had started to become more frequent, made by a hand that paid meticulous attention to detail. It was unnecessary, but it also showed a certain level of respect for the summoned. The master had wanted to give a good body, albeit one made of wire and bolts.

    Time was a strange thing. The years started to blur together, but still it seemed that the calls came less and less frequently, made by desperate or curious people who acted without any expectation of true results. The summoned still came, even though their call was not truly made as it had been once before, with the expectation that the call would be answered. When so few called, there was no room to be particular.

    The summoned was glad, in a way. The changes of the world had resonated throughout its entirety, but the changes were also unknown. Now they would become known once more, and perhaps the time would pass more easily again.

    Finished with its inspection, the summoned moved in gently to the body. There was nothing in this world that did not, one way or another, come from the earth, and that made it viable. The pathways that had been meticulously explored from the outside became explored from the inside, and it began to fill with a warmth of familiarity. It was not a true home, but it was a very comfortable substitute until the summoning came to an end.

    The body was almost capable of moving on its own, under the right power. The joints were there. A finger twitched in curiosity. A small tweak was made, unnoticeable to anyone who was not within the space as well. The construction had been thorough. The finger twitched again. The toe bent slightly. The ankle rolled. The wrist twisted. The knee bent. The shoulder pushed back. The spine curved. The hips rotated. Then the summoned gathered the feet underneath the mass of metal and gently heaved upwards. It stared at the master, waiting for command or instruction.

    Was this one who wanted an unthinking servant to do the work he did not wish to? He certainly wasn’t looking for a lover or a friend, not with this body. But the summoned had the power to adapt to the Master’s will, should he want something that was not currently offered. It was doubtful that this harsh, short, thin metal body would not draw attention once they left the security of the ancient forest. But perhaps the Master wanted attention.

    There was no way of knowing. The Summoned would wait and see.
  3. Conrad dreamed. Dreamed of conquest. Of wealth. Of power. He dreamed of becoming the head of a vast empire, the manipulator that pulled the strings behind kings, presidents, and councils. He wanted to rule, and to wield power like a rapier. Quick, and deadly. He dreamed of coming into his own as the only living heir to his father's corporations.

    And he dreamed of loneliness.

    The dreams faded however, as Conrad grew chill, and shivers roused him from his slumber. His eyes opened blearily, and his knees curled up to his chest. No matter that the expensive suit he'd worn to the woods was covered in leaves and dirt. Clothing could be washed, or replaced. What mattered, was that his body was gone.

    In a panic, Conrad sat bolt upright, but it soon became apparent that the body hadn't been stolen. It had been taken. As the gift offered. Conrad's eyes widened, as he looked up along the narrow frame of the machine he'd laid, dead and immobile among the roots of the great tree. It stood over him. It loomed.

    Fear began to worm it's way into the back of his mind, and his mouth grew dry. What kind of fool had he been, to conjure an ancient spirit? An unknowable essence that was older than his very bloodline?

    A tiny voice, in the back of his head whispered against the growing panic. But it WORKED.

    Conrad slowly made his way to his feet, hands brushing his bottom free of dirt and debris, as he eyed the mechanical marvel up and down.

    "Do you have a name?" He asked the being.
  4. So, the Master did not want an unthinking servant. Or, at the very least, he did not want a mute one. The body the servant had been given was not build for speech. It was metal, and had no lungs to produce air, and no tongue to shape the words. That was irrelevant. The metal within bent at the faintest thought, shaping and forming into something that would produce sound.

    Now, however, the Servant had to make a choice, and there were no cues it could take. It would have to guess at what the Master would want. He had given a body of metal to the servant, but it had been a construct of complexity. All the same it was made, constructed, not truly a thing of the natural world. Did the Master want a creature of metal and the technology that had been starting to form the last time a master had called the servant into the world? Or was this simply the body that had seemed the best to construct, and the complexity reflected his desire to have a servant as close to human as possible? But the Master was waiting for a reply, and the Servant would not keep him waiting.

    "Yours to give, Master."

    The voice that finally emerged was delicate, androgynous, yet containing a subtle complexity that spoke of humanity. All the same, there was the faintest echo to its voice, like someone had shouted into a cave made of metal and it was the reflection of that voice that finally returned to the ear. It was the best middle ground that the Servant could create. It could always adjust as more instructions were given.
  5. Conrad stared at the creation. No, that wasn't the right word. He might have put the body together piece-by-piece, but the thing was no beast of his making. No. It was a guest, in a temporary housing. And it had called him 'master'.

    Teeth worried his lower lip, as Conrad approached, lifting a hand to the metal chassis as he began to circle the being. "You'll take a name I give you?" He asked, somewhat surprised. Was it because the thing didn't want him to know it's true name, or did the thing not have one? Maybe to own a name would be to limit itself. Or maybe Conrad was over-thinking the naming-process of his new servant.

    He'd decide later.

    "You need a strong name. I'll call you..." His creativeness -it seemed- had been all used up in the creation, and the calling of the entity. "I'll call you Ferrous." Iron.

    It seemed to suit the creature. "And your primary objective is to help me take over the world. After that, your goal is to protect me. Your third directive, is to obey me. I give you these three orders, in order of importance high-to-low. Conquest, protection, and obedience." There was a wild gleam in the young man's eye, as he retracted his hand to his chest. "You must call me Master Joshka in public. In private, I couldn't care less." He paused.

    "Are you at liberty to answer questions?"
  6. Ferrous. That one the Servant... Ferrous knew. Iron. Perhaps Master Joshka truly did want a metal servant, for calling one who looked like a man Iron (or its equivalent) might be a bit obvious. All the same, this would be something that Ferrous would have to check. At a later date. For now, there were more pressing concerns.

    It had been a long time since Ferrous had been summoned for conquest, but it was not the first time. But, in a way, the Servant admired Master Joshka's pluck. Few would place their bid to rule the world into something that would only be considered myth. Ferrous did not know whether this showed desperation or thoroughness. It did not matter. Ferrous had its master, and it would follow the Master's orders for as long as the Master lived. Villain or hero, it did not matter. No matter what happened to the people, the world would live. As long as the world lived, so would the Servant. Although it would not be so interesting without the people to bring it into play.

    "I will give it, so long as I know the answer. But first," and a faint noise came from the metal monster, something almost resembling a laugh. It was not cruel, nor mocking. It was simply a pure expression of personal pleasure and amusement, and were there skin it would be accompanied by a bright smile. Somehow the smile still came through. "You may wish to rearrange those, if you are determined to have me act under a directive. I doubt you want to rule the world posthumously, although that would still meet the requirements of your first instruction." Once again came that smile that was not a smile. "I am no demon or djinn, looking to trick you into a mistake that will lead to your death. I am perfectly satisfied with our arrangement."
  7. Conrad smiled as the creature -as Ferrous- laughed. The expression of joy was... Surprising. Refreshing. "I will not." He said, pleased that the thing had the capacity to question it's orders, if they didn't ring of logic. "All men must die, Ferrous. I burn to live on through legacy. That is the only way men like me can attain immortality. Conquest. Protection. Obedience."

    He smiled. "That's not to say that I expect you to singlehandedly conquer every nation in my name after I have gone. I expect to need you to occasionally choose between my safety, and the fulfillment of my plans. I do not plan to die before I see the world brought to heel, but I cannot rule the world from a padded cell." He paused.

    "I would tell you to act on your morals, but until I know precisely what morals you own, I shall insist that you act on mine." He turned southward, although only the orientation against the great tree told him direction, with the sun gone from the sky, and it's last lights quickly fading.

    "For now Ferrous, we must find our way out of these woods. There is a city to the southwest, where I came from initially. Do you require clothes?"
  8. "As you wish." Ferrous hoped that it would never come to a point where the continuation of Master Joshka's plans would require his death. Once he died the contract was completed, and Ferrous would not remain. Whatever point his conquest was at was the point at which it would remain. But if the Master did not wish for a change of plans, than the Servant would not change them. This was his game, and Ferrous was, in the end, but a piece.

    But his next question did provide an opportunity for an answer to Ferrous' unspoken question. "The body you have given me has no use for clothes. If you wish to disguise me there are better means."
  9. Conrad had grand plans. He didn't expect his creature to go on fighting after he had died. He had asked for loyalty 'til his death, and -the way he understood things- creatures such as Ferrous were very literal with their contracts. However there were some times when a man had to give up everything to reach his goals. Possibly even his life. Conrad couldn't fathom a situation where that would be necessary, but he wouldn't be stopped by his own creature if that was what it took.

    He started walking, expecting Ferrous to follow, but stopped short at the creature's statement. "It would be beneficial to disguise you more thoroughly. I'm afraid I couldn't come up with a way to make you look human without borrowing a cadaver, and I thought you might be upset receiving a second-hand host. Tell me of these better ways, Ferrous." He said, slowing his gait.
  10. So, not a metal beast then. Already Ferrous was learning about the Master who had summoned it. He was power-hungry undoubtedly, but there was also a certain sense of honor to him, as well as a level of respect that was uncommon in most would-be dictators. Beyond the pleasure always granted with being in the world and able to experience and enact its own will, this might actually be a moderately interesting endeavor.

    "I am at your command, Master Joshka. That does not exclude my shape. What form would you have me adopt?"
  11. "While asking you to assume the shape of a child would suit my sense of irony, it would hardly be practical. Moreover, it would be a disservice both to you, and to myself. I would like you to take human form, if you are able. Man or woman, it matters little to me. Though you are more likely to be underestimated as a woman." He glanced at the metallic creature. "I assume you'll be able to make the change on your own, though I'll be happy to provide any help with the transformation you need."

    He paused. "Though if you could change from form to form easily, it might be a fantastic boon..." A hand rose to stroke his jaw ponderously as he walked. "You would -of course- have to find a way to inform me of your new form subtly, should that be the case. A code-phrase of some sort perhaps. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Are you capable of changing your stature, in fact your very being with ease, Ferrous?"
  12. "I am."

    As if in a direct response to the words of the metal beast, the ground surged up around the metal creature, pulling plant, detritus, dirt and stone, winding smoothly through the metal. At first the sight was somewhat alarming, a combination of growth and melting that seemed as though it could not function together yet somehow worked out. When the ground finally fell away, a woman stood before Conrad. She could easily have been called tiny, standing barely five and a half feet tall. Her hair was soft and brown, neatly cut around her soft chin, her skin pale, her lips full and beautiful, and wide grey eyes peering up at her Master. There was something almost timeless about her face, something that seemed to defy any attempts of the world to mar it.

    She wore a simple dress that clung tightly to her well-proportioned chest, before flaring out just above her hips. It was a style that had gone out of fashion well over twenty years ago, yet there was nothing particularly off-putting about the sight.

    "Is this appropriate?" The metallic tang was entirely gone from her voice, leaving nothing but a sweet, high, silvery tone. "Or are there any adjustments you would request?"
  13. Conrad stared, awestruck as his servant formed a new body from the earth. When the ground, twigs, leaves, and branches all melted away, he was left staring at... A very lovely woman. Impressed, Conrad stroked his jaw ponderously. "That will do for now," He acknowledged, turning back to the path. "We will get you up to date on the current fashion, and you'll be able to blend in perfectly."

    The young man wiped a hand across his eyes, as doubt overtook him. What mad scheme had he begun, claiming an ancient spirit as a servant to deliver him the world? He gritted his teeth, and steeled his determination. "We will come up with a cover identity for you when we get back to my office. You could be my new secretary, I suppose. It would give you an excuse to be at hand while I'm at the office. Or my betrothed, although it may be suspicious for an engagement to spring up out of the blue. I shall give it consideration as we walk."

    A glance back at the woman reminded him that he was not just talking for his own benefit, as he was wont to do on occasion. "If any ideas strike you, tell me. You shall be my confidant henceforth. My partner in all things. I will need your mind just as much as I need your service."
  14. Ferrous listened to everything she was told with a soft, attentive expression on her face. For her part, the Servant was growing more and more pleased with her new Master. There were few who truly wished to exercise the full range of her talents. Then again, she had never been asked to strategize before. She was a servant, an executor of her master's will, and while that might mean learning how best to anticipate his needs and act in advance, it rarely meant coming up with her own decisions. This might be a very interesting experience.

    Moving out of the forest, however, was an unexpected transition. It was not until that moment that Ferrous realized it was no longer cities surrounded by forest, but was rather a small pocket of forest surrounded by city. She had known that the world was changing at a pace never seen before while she waited to be summoned again, but she had never dreamed it would change this much. However, the only sign of her uncertainty, was a brief, faltering step as her mind stopped communicating with her body. She glanced towards Master Joshka, before straightening her head and shoulders. A Servant should never show uncertainty.

    Conrad was about to continue walking forward when her hand flashed out, lightly coming to rest on his shoulder. "You are a man of standing," she said, as much a sign of submission as it was a reminder. "You should not enter into public view in an outfit covered in forest detritus." There was no one around, at least not right now. She brushed a hand along the collar of his shirt, and the dirt skidded away like water rolling off a duck's feathers. Threads tightened and neatened, repairing any rips or spots of wear that had occurred during his construction and subsequent delivery of her body. When she stepped away, the suit was as neat and clean as though brand new, and fresh from the shelf.
  15. Conrad Joshka paused as his servant addressed him, lifting a hand to his shoulder. Dirt, twigs, and leaves sloughed away, and the suit straightened. A sleeve that had caught in one of the mechanisms, and torn during the construction of his servant's body was mended, and his brows rose. What, he wondered, was the extent of this creature's ability? A small, fierce smile graced his face. He would have to find out.

    "Excellent work, Ferrous." He said. "Occasionally, I forget myself. Come. We'll take a tour of the beginning of our empire." He spoke in the plural, including the spirit in his words. She would -after all- be with him every step of the way. It would be nearly as much hers, as it was his.

    His feet carried him from the entrance to the reserve, to a nearby street. Skyscrapers craned overhead, and cars sped past on ground level, when they weren't idled at red lights. His retainers had returned to their stations at the entrance, and each sprang to action when Conrad approached. They were somewhat taken aback by the woman at his side.

    One in particular, an older, balding man with a fringe of white hair ringing his shiny pate, and snowy brows that overshadowed bright, blue eyes cleared his throat. "Young master Joshka, is this your... New endeavor?"

    Joshka nodded his head, gesturing to the woman. "Yes Hadram. This is Ferrous. She will be working closely with you to see to my needs. She is to be obeyed as I am, for her interests are mine. Barring a direct command from me, she is to be allowed to go where she pleases, when she pleases. Am I understood?"

    The aged servant bowed. "Yes, master Joshka. She will be obeyed, as you are. It grows late, young master. Will you retire?"

    Conrad regarded his newest servant, though he spoke to his oldest. "For tonight, I shall. Have the car take us home."

    "Right away." Conrad turned his eyes from his servant, and his entourage followed.

    "Ferrous," He said. "Did you have a purpose? Before I called you?"
  16. Ferrous observed the city and the people around her, slowly gathering information. Now that she had a chance to examine things, she began to realize that the changes were not all that great as she had imagined. Things felt more complex, but really they were simply an enhancement of what had already been. She was adjusting quickly to her new world, and to the things she would need to know to be able to help Master Joshka. And when his life came to an end, she would take his consciousness, his soul, as it were, with her, and would then have a true understanding of this world.

    Her attention was drawn back to her master as he spoke, although his words were not directed towards her. Ferrous studied these people as well. It was clear, at least from the man's attitude, that they had some idea of what Conrad had been attempting in the forest, and what her appearance meant. She did not worry too much about their knowledge. It was not as though people would believe them if they related what they now suspected. All the same, she would keep the knowledge. It would not do to forget that others knew about her, and speculated at what she might be able to do.

    She took a moment to consider Master Joshka's question, before shrugging faintly. "I have had purposes in the past Master Joshka, if that is what you mean. But if you speak of an innate purpose to my existence, it is the same as all life, to continue to live and adapt to change." She thought for a moment as Hadram pulled up next to the sidewalk in a sleek, black limo. "My apologies, Master. I am not sure if that answers your question."
  17. Conrad felt a crooked smile slide onto his face at the answer. Well, at least he hadn't brought about some ancient horror, bent upon destruction. Unless she was lying to him. And there was no way to tell that of course, until she betrayed him. So he worked off of the assumption that she was trustworthy. For now, it would suffice.

    "You answered my question as thoroughly as I need it answered. Come." He stepped into the limousine, selecting a seat with it's back to the driver, and the front of the car.

    "While we are on our way, I want you to educate me, Ferrous. I need to know how to best use your skills. For that, I need to know precisely which skills you have. What sort of magics, or technologies you have, and can wield at a whim. What you can do on impulse, as an immediate reaction, and what you can do given proper time and preparation. Most of all, I need to know if you are alone in your existence." He paused, regarding his new aid.

    "Can you tell me all of this, Ferrous?"
  18. The vehicle was low, smooth, and comfortable, with pale leather seats that molded comfortably as she sat down at a 90 degree angle to Master Joshka. Outside of the vehicle someone closed the door, before moving up to the passenger's seat.

    When Master Joshka finished his questions, Ferrous spoke without hesitation. She saw no reason to deny her master's queries as she had nothing to hide from him, and the knowledge that there were now pieces of technology that could work as ears when no ears were nearby was beyond her knowledge. For now it would be Conrad's responsibility to make sure that they were not overheard, until she had a better sense of how much the world had progressed.

    "I am of the world, and the world is me. Therefore all things that are currently or were once part of the earth also contain fragments of myself. Now that you have freed me from being bound within them, and therefore being unable to affect them, those things are at my whim. However, I am still bound within this body; it has become my restriction. The further they are from this body, the longer it takes for the effect to reach them. It is not a long time, but it is long enough that you would easily be able to perceive the delay." Ferrous paused to consider. "While I may still be connected to everything, I cannot reach it all. I would say that the farthest range I can effect is as far as..." Ferrous paused, her pretty brow wrinkling in thought. "One mile? Perhaps two. Somewhere within that range. Larger things are easier for me to recognize at distance, and therefore control."

    "Technology is a more imprecise matter. I can control the things that allow for the flow of electricity, but cannot control the electricity itself, as that is not a part of the earth. Rather, the earth is part of it." She paused again, pulling the knowledge from her last visit to the earth. "In more precise, scientific terminology, I can control the atom, but not its sub-parts. I cannot turn lead into gold, although I can draw out gold if it is within my range."

    Once again Ferrous was silent. Conrad's last question was straightforward enough, but if she understood what he was thinking the answer to his question would not be sufficient for what he was trying to learn. "I am alone. There is room for nothing but me, Master, but I am not all... here." One small hand gestured to her body. "Almost all of me is still out there, and it is possible that more could be drawn out into another body. I do not know what would happen if this occurred, for it has never been done before. I do not even know if it could occur. But, were it to occur, I would undoubtedly know it was happening."
  19. Conrad was something of a paranoid creature. It was the nature of his upbringing. That was precisely why this particular interrogation was happening in a relatively secure, and moving vehicle, instead of on the way back from the reserve where he'd conjured the spirit. The ambient noise alone would make overhearing them somewhat difficult, not to mention tracking the moving vehicle. Of course, if somebody had bugged the limo, that was all moot. He could have chosen a pool perhaps, but that was somewhat less convenient a conversational location, and directional hearing devices could be used from farther away there.

    "I see," He said, a hand rising to stroke his smooth jaw in contemplation. "Then you are to let me know immediately, if you feel more of yourself drawn as I have drawn you." The implications of the statement went beyond Joshka's comprehension, so he let the idea slide away from his mind. Contradictions and impossibilities. "You can effect matter belonging to the earth." He said, trying to wrap his head around the particulars of that idea. "What about the flesh of men. Can you alter, and effect that? Could you stop a man's heart from beating, a mile away? Change a man's face as you have done for yourself? Can you close a gaping wound? Repair damage to the nervous system?"

    Apart from being horribly ambitious, Conrad was an inquisitive mind. He wanted to know everything there was about the new servant. An idea popped into his head. "You shaped yourself as a woman. Do your bodily functions work? Do you need sustenance? Sleep?"
  20. "Flesh, muscle, and bones are a part of the earth, Master, as they were constructed from vegetation, indirectly or directly. I could do as you have proposed, although it would not be a particularly pleasant experience. Performed too quickly, it causes death to the person or animal involved, simply from the shock of such a sudden change." There was something in Ferrous' tone that implied this was not mere speculation, but was instead a confirmed fact.

    "As for this body, it is not a body as you would think of it, Master. It is simply a shell. I still have the metal you gave me at first inside of this, as support." To demonstrate she lifted an arm, and the skin lightly folded away, revealing fine, twining bits of metal that almost looked like blood vessels. The skin folded back into place, somehow managing to avoid coming across as creepy in the process. Ferrous ducked her head, almost in embarrassment. "It was simpler and quicker than building a functioning body. I was only looking for disguise. If you wish, I could build one that would properly function, but it would still only be a facsimile of life, animated by my will. Sustenance and sleep will never be necessary."
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