A Man of Clay and Men Formerly Men

« Archival Document -- HSA-008-Advent || Black Sunrise || Operation AEON DAWN »


rating: +35+x

Somewhere in the woods, Nazi-occupied Norway, 1944 . . .

Knock knock.

Benedikt Holzer rushed down the stairwell of the nameless manor. There was an unexpected guest at the door.

Knock knock.

Moonlight streaking through cracks in the barricaded windows guided Benedikt's every move. As the gears behind his eyes churned every faint beam of light became a laser of daylight, exposing every mine's outline and every ritual dagger's tip. His feet artfully dodged around the boobytraps and his hands rested firmly on the pistols in his pant pockets.

Knock.

His flow was disrupted. A foot slipped and he threw his body to the left before any limb could meet an explosive fate. There was the faint rustling of metal as his head slid into the barbed wire lining the railings.

Knock.

"I'm coming!" he shouted between spits of blood. Benedickt placed his hands on the railing's underside and pushed, tearing what was left of a face from the metal tangle. Before any blood and oil could stain his uniform he unbuckled a metal faceplate from his belt and strapped it around his face. It had no facial features, simply eyeholes. Luckily he had no need for a face these days.

He jumped down the stairwell for the last few steps and sprinted to the door. He flicked a switch by the handle and awoke the intercom system, leaning into a repurposed radio transceiver nailed on. He spoke.

Knock—

"Greetings. Could you identify yourself?" No normal person had any reason to waltz through the layers of security outside to visit a long abandoned mansion. No normal person would have lived to be knocking on this door.

"No need. I only have a few questions on your manor."

Gravelly voice. Fluent German. Old. A dispatch from Obskuracorps? A visiting warrior priest of the Thule Society? If either were the case, why had no message been delivered by command announcing so, and why would the messenger refuse to be identified?

"Sir, you will need identification—"

"Again, no need. Only a few questions and I will be leaving."

Benedikt unholstered a pistol and pressed the barrel against the door, finger gliding onto the trigger.

"If you insist. What questions do you have?"

"What is this place?"

"It's an old mansion once owned by ancestors of Minister President Vidkun Quisling. It has to be kept off limits due to structural instabilities." Both lies.

"I see. Do you know when it was built?"

"Some time in the 1800s." One of the last structures the Norwegian occultists of Nyrsigtuna ever built.

"Hmm. Now, have you realized I could sense your aetheric aura?"

"I— Would you please repeat that?" The gun barrel wavered.

There was a thunderous crack as the door burst inward, chunks of wood propelling into Benedikt's torso, gun spiraling far behind onto the marble floor. The air around his hands heated in a short-lived attempt at a thaumic counterattack before the bulky mass of the radio transceiver rapidly met his neck.


If no alarms had been triggered in the skirmishes with the perimeter guards then surely one would be triggered now.

Special Operative Josef strode over the bloodied wooden shrapnel and kneeled to inspect what was left of the door greeter. With a thick clay hand he plucked a flashlight from his Allied Occult Initiative-issued fatigues and shone it on the masked severed head.

"Are you still there?"

Gears pushed past layers of viscera and jutted out of the neck, jerkily rotating and wheeling over to the torso. With a series of clicks it fastened to the body, reheaded. The greeter jumped to their feet.

"Y-you're the golem of-"

"Of Prague, yes." He grasped onto the greeter's arms and clenched, feeling the metal bones soften like clay. "What is your name?"

"Benedikt—" Coughing. "Lower Priest Benedikt Holzer." The beheading had dropped his voice by an octave, now accompanied by a constant, faint sound of radio interference.

A Thule Society member. Josef was certainly in the right location, though that was clear from the moment he stepped into the intense aetheric energies surrounding the manor. "Benedikt, what has the Society been doing here?"

"We've been… experimenting."

Josef glanced at his surroundings. Decrepit neo-classical architecture drenched in sandbags, barbed wire, and any fortifications imaginable. On appearances alone Benedikt's claim didn't seem far-fetched. Enough documents had been found by the Foundation to suggest that the Thule were using the place to develop an ersatz Key, a replacement for one of the mystical objects they needed to complete the Rite of Solomon and become the sole thaumaturges in the world. Benedikt wasn't telling the full truth, though.

"Is that why you have Mekhanite structures in your body?"

"M-mekhanite? No, the Aryan ancestors built far better—"

Megaphones through the room screamed their panicked alarms, rising and falling over and over before fading. Josef sighed. Interrogation had taken far too long. Interrupting a beginning pseudoscientific diatribe, Benedikt was beheaded again, with Josef forcing his hand through the torso's neck stump and stripping it of the connecting cogs.

"Reconsider how important you think Germanic peoples are," Josef said.

The floor-bound head jittered in response.

Doors at the top of the grand stairwell burst open to a chorus of gunfire. Obskuracorps soldiers clad in black fired down, riddling the ground with metal studs. Josef sprinted around the side of the stairwell and barreled through a set of doors to its left, tumbling into a long hallway. Above the glass shards of old ceiling lamps were dangling electrical lamps, providing the faint yellow light for him to spot the cthonian sigil traps etched into the floor.

It would have prevented a mess if Josef hadn't stepped into one as he barged in. He stepped forward but collided with walls of sulfur dust now encasing the sigil's edges. Holes to somewhere impossible emerged around his feet. Cyan tendrils lunged from below, wrapping around his limbs as he thrashed. The demon's wolf-like head rose up on a serpentine body and stared into his chiseled eyes. It growled.

Before it could open its maw the two tendrils encasing Josef's arms were torn apart. A holy water pack in his fatigues was just burst by the constriction. The demon screamed before Josef's fist tore through its jaw and down its throat, the other hand pulling out two teeth for later use. With bursts of aetheric energy the demon's body solidified and crumbled into a cold dust. Exorcised.

Six seconds until the sulfur walls collapsed. An Obskuracorps officer barked by the door, likely ordering their platoon to fire the moment Josef exits. More than enough time to prepare. He holstered the teeth, brushed exorcised demon dust from his fatigues, grasped a grenade and pulled its pin. Four. Three. Two. One.

The sulfur shattered into glass-like chunks. Gunfire erupted. Josef hurled the grenade through a crack and kicked a chunk froward, grabbing several as they fell in slow-motion and arranging them in the air as a barricade. He rushed forth as an explosion tore apart the barriers and several soldiers. Bullets tore past his fatigues to hit his body, the small cracks in his clay form like the pricks of what he imagined a needle felt like.

He weaved around further sigil traps. A soldier clad in rusted chainmail lunged from behind and was swiftly knocked head-first into a trap, vanishing behind more yellow walls. Josef took cover, mentally blocked out the screams in the sulfur tomb, and thought. When the AOI had run undercover aether scans of the manor before he invited himself in they found the magical aura surrounding the area was the most intense around a large chamber in the far back. Now that he was past the entrance he could feel it wafting across his mind as well. To keep moving forward would bring him to his mission objectives and something dangerous. Something Thule and Obskuracorps should never have.

The door at the end of the hallway opened. An Obskuracorps Commander — face covered by a mask like Benedikt's though painted with far more runes — stepped out. Strapped around one hand was a leash that led to a skeletal thing. Bones surrounded by yellow flames, three magenta "eyes" staring intently at Josef, the ends of all six arms broken and replaced with assault rifles. The Commander tugged on the leash and jerked the beast's head, the sealing nails embedded in its spine thrumming in response.

Thule had learned how to control a demon.

All gun-arms opened fire, belching a burst of blackened bullets that left dark scar-like trails through the air. Josef dodged. The bullets struck the sulfur walls of the trap once behind him and bent it like fabric. They pushed through to tear into the soldier's gorey remnants and the heads of the demon feasting on it, sucking the bodies inwards until they went inside-out and shrunk to fleshy motes. Ones stuck in the floor were still twisting its tiles in small marble cyclones.

"Bastard," Josef muttered.

For the first time since training he reached for the assault rifle — specially designed for his bulky hands — on his side and pulled the trigger. Bolts of thaumic energy launched from the barrel, fueled by the thaumaturgic potential of Josef's own body, arcing to the Commander's head. Their right arm split through their black uniform sleeve into three bronze limbs. Thaumaturgic shields projected from the hands. The bolts desperately whizzed around the iridescent barriers for a weak point but the arms moved too fast. All were blocked and absorbed as fuel.

Josef forced one last surge of energy into the gun. He plugged its barrel with a demon tooth and hurled the gun in a path that would bring it to the Commander. More bullets came from the soldiers by the hallway's start but now the only ones to care about were from the skeleton. He ran along the wall while breaking off wooden chunks, each meeting the projectiles and slowing their approach. More black trails snaked toward his feet. He jumped and threw a grenade that rolled ahead.

The grenade blasted the hallway's wall open. Josef dipped onto the grassy field outside, embraced the cool breeze, then dived back into the chaos under the veil of wooden debris plumes. The clogged gun landed behind the Commander and finally buckled under the pressure of the energy within it, incinerating itself and the tooth in a blue fireball. A metal arm twisted to block the inferno with a shield. Only two were left to halt Josef.

The two arms merged their shields and the Commander raised a glowing pistol, ready to fire the moment their defenses were lost. Josef retrieved the second tooth and stabbed it through the shields. He drove a foot down on it like a wedge. A gash tore through. He budged the two arms apart while twisting the other to cover the Commander's gun. They fired. The bullet went nowhere. Once the shields vanished it only took a swift punch to force the Commander's gear guts out of their chest.

Leaving the body to gracelessly collapse, Josef spun to face the demon. It had stopped firing. Even the soldiers ceased their fire. Now that the fighting had lessened he began to notice the fine details along the skeleton's body. Carved illustrations of towns, depictions of warriors, commoners, children, all with a six armed skeleton. Runes spelling "defender" on its forehead.

The demon was never a malicious force. It was a guardian of this region, extant for far longer than Josef, Nyrsigtuna, or any modern occult group. This wasn't what it was meant for.

Josef retrieved the pistol from the coat of the presumably deceased Commander and — after breaking the trigger guard meant for human hands — fired a round at every sealing nail. All shattered with ease. Heat erupted from around Defender and each gun-arm shattered, replaced by normal arms manifesting out of thin air.

It stared. He nodded. It nodded back.

Josef left the hallway and closed the door, not a single soldier daring to fire. A few paces forward and he heard the faint screams of panicked soldiers running from a force their commanders thought they could control.

With every step into the dining hall turned weapons storage room the aether grew denser. Josef's movement continued as normal yet it felt as though he was wading through water, the thaumaturgic energy high enough that it repeatedly manifested itself in blue sparks that bounded about the crates of guns, miraculously not willing the explosives to life. His destination would be past the next set of doors.

He paused. He had a choice now. With much the manor's defense ruined he could leave, report on his findings to AOI Command, storm in with a full squad of thaumaturges, and finish the job. Time spent that could grant Obskuracorps precious time they needed for recuperation.

The aetheric sparks continued their dance, briefly spiraling into a circle around his head before dissipating yet again. Something in the chamber ahead began humming.

"Wise men foresee the consequences."

Josef walked forward and bashed through the door's locks. He stepped into the chamber.

JOSEF.

The High Priest's voice felt more akin to a hammer to the head than actual speech.

"Knowing my name isn't impressive."

Ancient relics were jammed into the center of the chamber: a celtic cross, bronze spheroids lined with mechanical arms, a broken statue of a four-armed being. Atop stood the High Priest. Stygian blue tendrils wormed around and between the cracks in the artifacts, melding into the priest's back to feed them with thaumic energies. It was the origin of the aura. It was a site to develop a new Key.

You have a Key of Solomon, Josef.

The High Priest raised his arms; one mechanical, the other whirling light. Their black robes and armor rustled as the aether billowed about their position atop the artifacts. To Josef the chamber felt more like a gaping abyss by the second.

Give the Key and I will let you live.

"You seem content making a Key for yourself."

Will you?

One was not enough for the Rite.

"Will you kill me regardless?"

That is not an answer.

Two swords launched off the floor and into the priest's hands.

"You already know what it is."

Every inch of Josef's hands became lined with glowing hebrew text.

Then so be it.

The High Priest shot forward, swords scarring the ground in a blaze of sparks. Harnessing the Key within him Josef spun the dense energies around his body and thrust to the side, attaining a brief weightlessness as he set his sights on the relic pile. With an aerial pirouette a second thrust sent him careening to the pile. The High Priest chanted. Dozens of flaming daggers appeared and entered pursuit of the golem. Josef's Key clicked and the gaseous forms of specters faded into being, assembling into a ring around his body. The daggers reached their prey only to vanish into undead hands.

Josef collided into the four-armed statue, cracking a limb off of it. The arm flailed as if alive. There was a flare of light. A spear of meteoric iron longer than any human rested where the limb once existed. Josef raised it high.

Before a new plan could be formulated the High Priest dived in. Both swords clatterred into the spear's sides, leaving not even a dent. The priest accelerated. Josef pushed back. Screams emerged from the spirits as they swirled around the priest, slowly disintegrating from the blue energies flaring all around. Cracks emerged in Josef's arms and nonexistent nerves seared. The air burst with heat.

Josef lessened his grip and fell backwards. The High Priest surged ahead, knocking the spear to the side, and he slammed deep into the pile. The stygian blue tendrils shredded themselves apart. The pile violently exploded. Fires and debris swept over Josef, evaporating his fatigues and liquifying any tools he had. Behind hellish flames the cross, spherical devices, and all else in the pile sank into a molten pit that bent the chamber floor into itself. He stumbled back, dragging the spear with him.

The great aura of the manor whisked away like dust in the wind. Any major thaumic powers Josef had were gone.

NO.

In a plume of liquid metal the High Priest, wreathed in robes of embers, emerged. His two swords were now white-hot liquid pillars yet they remained in his hands.

OF ALL DEATHS, ONE AT THE HANDS OF A STONE BARBARIAN WILL BE NAUGHT.

The priest soared to Josef. Both swords spun like wheels. Thrusts of the spear parried every attempted jab and Josef twisted it, stabbing into the priest's chest. Boiling blood trickled out.

NAUGHT.

The stygian blue tendrils returned, spilling from the High Priest's wound and stabbing through the spear, prying at its cracks until it shattered into seven-pointed fragments. His fist raised and Josef jolted into the air.

NAUGHT.

Duplicates of the swords emerged above Josef's chest, dripping metal across him. They all thrust in. The Key within his body churned within his insides and repeatedly bounded up. His mind screamed.

NAUGHT.

As more swords positioned above his head, preparing to gouge out the word of truth engraved on his head and erase his life, Josef heard a manic screech at the chamber entrance. In seconds the freed Guardian was upon the High Priest. Every magenta eye stared deep into their soul. Before he could react the Guardian had already carried them high to the air. Three skeletal arms punched into the priest's chest and exited on the other side.

I…

The fists phased out of the body and let it descend. Josef fell out of the air.

will…

The priest's mangled body landed next to Josef.

not…

A lance of magma grew from their shattered mechanical arm and raised over the golem. Josef pushed himself off the ground.

die.

A single punch was all it took to extricate the High Priest's mind from his head.


Josef strode across moonlit fields away from the burning manor. The embers released by the occult devastation had spread through the building's corridors, lighting the entire structure ablaze. The last Obskuracorps soldiers within scurried out of windows on the ground floor, lives far more important than what little was left of their research. He watched the burning over his shoulder. A crackle and the whole structure collapsed into a scaled-up bonfire.

The faint roar of tanks bounded over the plain from afar. The AOI was sure to be confused when they find their reconnaissance mission had turned into decimation. Josef would either be lauded for valiantly stopping experiments on Rite of Solomon components or sternly spoken down to by Command for breaking valuable artifacts and protocol. He didn't care which outcome it would be.

There was a yellow glimmer. Josef looked to see the Guardian standing the edge of the woods. It gave a last nod before its body dissipated into gasses that flowed into the surrounding trees and grasses. A flash of magenta from the wildlife and all was calm.


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