The Mouse Hunter
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I awoke to a rubbing noise, a fibrous scraping sound. At first, I was only a set of ears, but just as suddenly as the first sense had came, I had begun to feel the twists and bends that were creating the sound. They were nothings, at first. My long, thin, flat body was being rolled into a stockier torso, and soon after that, there were limbs. Weak, flimsy limbs. And just as I was aware of a head being rolled, I began to see. Not well. But I could.

A mass of shapes, moving without reason, shifting, nauseating. But I did not react, for I still couldn't move. Then, there was a strange, rhythmic sound, like a resonance being funneled out in waves. I couldn't understand it at first. But then it said:

"Joey."

A few too many things happened at once. First, the shapes started to make sense. I was staring straight forward at a face, the face of a young girl with long black hair. Her eyes were hazel, her skin was dark, her hands were small and dainty, and the right one was wrapped around my body. My body, then, began to be malleable. I could move it, albeit very slowly. That same scraping sound accompanied every bend of my arm, or kick of my feet, or turning of my head. I began to know things, as well.

My name was Joey.

And she…

"I am Martí."

…was the one I answered to.

She whisked me towards an enclosure with a fence made out of toothpicks, where others like me resided. On instinct, I knew their names at once. Though they all looked roughly the same, their identities were clear to me. I saw Billy, Richie, Jamie, Tommy, Perry, Carey, Charlie, Ellie, Milly, Moxie, Roxie, and others. We were a veritable troupe, and we all looked at each other without any need for curiosity. We knew we were a team, we knew we answered to Martí. That was all we needed to know. Patiently, we waited.

Master made more of us, each with a similarly fashioned name, until our numbers were in the dozens. We moved only to keep her within our sight, to await instruction. When new members entered our ranks, they were regarded with the familiarity we knew and felt. No introduction was needed. No greeting. We were already one with one another. Extensions of the same whole.

Once she seemed satisfied with our numbers, she stood over us. We each gazed up at her, simply waiting. She pointed a finger, at who we did not know, and waved it. We followed religiously, our heads turning to keep up with her more and more extravagant motions, but no order came. She giggled.

Master was happy. That was good.

When she spoke, we did not hear words. Intentions, however, were clear.

"I am leaving," Master explained. "Stay here."

She left the room, and we did as we were instructed. Though she left a lamp on near us, the majority of the room was dark. It was not in my nature to be curious, but in the absence of an active task, I took in my surroundings. Not everything was familiar to me, but some objects were immediately clear. The bed, for one, was recognizable without any further thought. Its four posts and large mattress were dead giveaways. There was a small, black, rectangular object sitting at its center that I could not make out, with a long cord leading from it into a box installed in the wall. Beneath the box in the wall was a face, two rectangular eyes and one frowning mouth. Possibly a ward. On the other end of the room, there were another two faces of the same type.

There was a chandelier overhead, but I could not make out any candles. Instead, there were glass balls with small wrappings of what looked like string. I did not feel any particular need to discover its workings. If it made light, it was a chandelier.

I could tell I was on a desk. We must have been very small. On the same desk were a great many tomes — one was open, beneath where Master had been creating us. I could not make out any details from this angle, but it did not matter. Tomes were for the Masters. I was not interested in them.

Martí returned, carrying a small leather pouch. She sat down at her chair, in front of us, and began to empty it onto the table. Out came several shining gemstones, primarily green in color, though with some splashes of orange and blue. She then reached into her pockets and pulled out teabags. She held them up while running her finger along the tome's pages, and seemed to slowly cut one or two open. She sifted through the remains and picked out specific herbs she desired. Once she had what she wanted, her hand, carrying the herbs, came above us.

"Move," she instructed, and we hurried to the sides of our enclosure, making space for her to lay the herbs down. She then surrounded the enclosure with five evenly spaced gems.

"Stay away," we understood, as she lit a match and plunged it into the herbs. The fire was small and swift, burning out only seconds after it came into existence. Master was efficient with her time. She stood, looked at her tome, pointed to the flame, and recited words with a different cadence from those she said before but their intentions I still instinctively understood. Using a few more words than this, she meant:

"They are mine, make them mine, and arm them."

The flame rejuvenated, if only for a moment, and lashes of its newly green tendrils speared through the chests of all of us, one at a time. The feeling was not unpleasant. Not that we would have done anything if it was. It was clearly Master's intention, and nowhere within our desires was one with which we would betray her wants. Soon after, knowledge began to collect in our heads like water dripping into a basin. New powers, new abilities. We were stronger than we were before.

"Create whips," we intuited. Within seconds, all of us had manifested whips made of the same materials as our body. Master jumped and smiled. She was happy. This pleased me.

I heard a voice from outside the room. A deep and commanding voice. Master looked displeased at its presence. My grip on the whip tightened, but she did not call for battle, so we waited. She said something without instruction, aimed at the voice outside, and then worriedly looked for something in her room. Once found, she returned to us, her creations, and laid it over us. A napkin.

"Rest," she said.

We were resting by doing nothing, so we held our position. There was a pause in which nothing happened.

"Lay down," she instructed, her voice unsure. We did as we were told.

"Good," she said. We did not require approval, but we did not disdain it. It was good to do things that Master liked. In coming years, we would come to know Master — unless our Master changed — and then we may be able to serve her better. The best golems could even lift their Master's spirits. It was a desire deep within us. This ability grew faster if the Master told us what did and did not please them. This Master was doing so on the first day.

She was a good Master.

I saw the lamp light go out, and I heard her footsteps as they made their way towards her bed. Despite hearing her lay down, I could make out a faint blue glow coming from that direction, through the napkin. It went away after a short while.

That night, we did not move, for fear of waking Master.




She had addressed us in the morning, said something that translated to “reassurance” — though I did not see why such was required — and left us resting on her desk for the remainder of the day. Only in the afternoon did she return. We had at first heard her from below, the nature of her voice already imprinted into us. She spoke with the other voice from before. Soon after, she had come up and entered her room, then removing our covering.

Master did not look happy at first, but after we sat up at her command, she smiled. Master began to speak very quickly. We did not catch individual words, but a picture was forming in our mind. A house, next to this house, where animals were kept, was experiencing a problem. Master was telling us this because we were a solution.

“Fix problem in other house,” was her order, though she had not said it. We all stood in unison, and formed whips. She startled at this.

“Put away weapons,” she commanded, and we complied.

Master seemed to consider her words. But before she spoke, she grabbed a bag with two straps, and opened the largest pocket. She placed it at the edge of the desk, and said “get in”. She was going to take us to the other house. We climbed over our toothpick fence, and marched into the bag, falling with little grace among the other objects within. There was a long metal rectangle that I soon recognised as a measuring tool. There were two large tomes, though one folded at an unusual angle and had metal rings within. There was a smaller bag, yellow and patterned with depictions of wingless dragons.

I assumed we would all fit better if we went limp, and it appeared the others had followed suit. For some reason, Master became alarmed. She began poking at some of us, for what intent I do not know. She then held out her finger, and we snapped to attention. A few waves of her finger, and she seemed to cheer up.

This was the second time this had happened. Master liked it when we looked at her finger.

I would not forget this.

I could feel that we were being taken down, and then I heard a door close, and the acoustics became that of the outdoors. It became colder, as well. As Master walked, I heard the crunch of dead leaves under her feet. Soon, though, that changed to the soft sifting of stepping on grass. I was eager. It was not within me to ask for a purpose, or complain of not having one, but I was glad to be getting one. It means that we were helping Master. It was the best thing to be doing.

I heard a noise I recognised. Horses. It was the huffing of idle horses.

A heavy set of doors was pushed open, and the air from inside the other house — I now identified it as a “barn” — came out, warmer than the atmosphere under the sun. Master took us inside, closed the door behind us, and then opened the bag once more. She peered in, smiled, and tipped the bag on its side so that we could be let out. Without need for instruction, we exited the bag, and formed a small clump inside the barn. The ground beneath our feet was covered with more of the material we were made of. “Hay”, I realised. We were made of hay.

She sat with her legs crossed, and addressed us. Soon, she was talking, but she was talking too much. It made it hard to follow her. After a minute or so of listening, an image formed in my mind.

The problem was that she could not be with cats.

No.

The problem was that she did not have a cat.

No.

The problem was one that a cat could solve, and she did not have a cat, because she could not be with cats. Cats. Mouse hunters. The problem, then, was mice.

Master confirmed my suspicion moments later, by pulling a small figure made of hay out of her bag. She placed it between herself and us. “Mouse,” she identified. Each of us manifested a whip in turn, and approached the figurine. Master stood and backed away, allowing us to dismantle the figurine as a sign of our understanding. After the figure had been torn into several pieces by the combined efforts of as many golems could efficiently attack at once, we looked at Master for further instruction.

Master looked unhappy, and had backed away a great distance. But seeing us look at her, she nodded. “Continue,” she said. We did not move, for there was no more mouse.

“Find more mice,” she commanded instead, “and kill them.”

We began to wander in random directions. I knew this was not the most efficient method, but since I did not know a better one, I would continue to meander aimlessly until I learned a better path that led to mouse destruction. Behind me, I heard the barn doors open and close, which I assumed would be Master taking her leave. She had given us a task, we were to carry it out. No more direct instruction was needed.

It felt good to have a purpose so clear.

The next issue was how to go about it.




We could hear her return, hours later. Those of us that could had ran to the front of the barn, and peered upon her commanding visage. She had, in her hand, Eddy and Teddy. She knelt down and placed them in our midst.

"Stay in barn," she specified. Teddy and Eddy had gone outside in search for mice. This mistake would not happen a second time.

She surveyed us. There were not as many of us as there had been before. She asked why. We could not answer, and so stayed still. Master sighed, and sat down. She picked at loose hay on the ground, and wound another mouse figurine.

"Kill," she instructed. We did as we had done before, but she shook her head.

She wound another figure, placed it in front of us, and we moved towards it.

"Stop," she said, and so we did.

She pulled a loose strand of string from her coat, and wound it around the neck of the figure. She pulled lightly, lifting the figure. She then handed the string to one of us — Silvie — and motioned towards the figure. Sylvie took the string, climbed onto the mouse, hooked the string around its throat, and pulled. Master then took the string away, and bid her to continue. Sylvie manifested a whip, and repeated the process. Master looked pleased, then her expression changed. She left the barn without further instruction.

We had hardly returned to our task when Master came back, and dropped a pile of sewing needles onto the floor.

She did not trust in our strength alone. She had armed us. For this I was grateful. An aid to our task. We could now serve her better.

Her next instruction was simple. "Work together." Without a second thought, we each took a needle and gathered into groups of three. She smiled. She sat again, and bid us to go about our duties. I had formed a troupe with Tilly and Sammy. We set off in a random direction, which happened to pass into the sleeping area of one of the horses.

The beast was great, but it was not our target. We made a careful path around it, towards the wall. Masters sometimes rode horses. It made Masters faster. But this one was sleeping, and Master was still on foot. There was not a great distance between Master's quarters and the barn. Horses were not required.

Once we had reached the wall, Tilly led towards our left, and Sammy and I followed. The route was simple and effective. We would trace the wall until we had made a full circle, and then do so again, and again, until we either found mice, or had learned that there were no mice to be found.

The first circuit was uneventful. The second circuit saw the death of Sammy by a careless hoof. I had salvaged his weapon before continuing. The third circuit was fruitful.

Tilly and I had located a mouse, within a stack of hay. Its white fur and naked tail confirmed its identity. We crouched, and clutched our weapons. It was near the corner of a horse stall, so Tilly and I spread out to cover its routes of escape. The attack would have been more secure with our third member, but that could not be helped. When we were ready, we charged. The mouse did not have much time to react. It squeaked in pain as I impaled its abdomen. The crippling of its back leg sapped its energy to run away, and Tilly followed through with a stabbing through the eye.

We had killed a single mouse.

Master would be pleased.

"Come," we heard her beckon from the center of the barn. We followed the sound of her voice, and met her where she sat upon a stack of hay. At her feet was what appeared to be a village of small houses, made of hay. Each was large enough to fit three of us golems. As Tilly and I approached, she smiled. As we collected at her shoes, she leaned down and picked up our needles, wiping the blood off with her fingers.

"Rest," she said. We stood still.

"Lay down," she said. We complied.

"In the houses," she specified. She sounded unhappy. We moved into the huts she had made, and laid down. She seemed satisfied with this, at least. The sun was beginning to set, and the light in the barn had begun to fade. Master left, and walked back to her quarters.

I do not know how long I laid there. It was a long time. I did not know sleep like Master did. But I was capable of waiting for very, very long periods of time. We all were. The limit was only the material we were made of.

I began to take in less and less, and then forgot time completely.

The night was long.




I became suddenly aware of a loud noise, far off. It was a voice. No, it was two voices. One was Master's. The other was the deeper voice. They were very loud. Louder than necessary, if they only meant to communicate. They sounded unhappy.

I listened closely, in case an order came. From this distance, Master could summon us to her side, in case a combat was imminent.

The noise continued for a long time.

No order came.

Suddenly, the night was silent again, except for the occasional shifting of horses, and the unbearable tittering of mice.




Months passed without much change. Master periodically replaced our losses with new additions. In the early days, she would come in to "wake" us and "sleep" us, but we at some point internalized the cycle and did not require Master's assistance. She looked very happy, the first day we laid in our huts without her instruction. Her happiness said everything for us. No further instruction was needed.

We saw Master when she came in to take care of the horses, mostly. Some of us had taken to showing her the fallen mice we had claimed. On good days, we would find a den of mice, and eradicate them. The mouse threat was constant and pressing. They never fully disappeared. We fought hard. It took a long time for the mice to fight back, but they had learned to fear us. Some of the braver mice were able to take a golem or two out before going down — rare were the days that a mouse was able to destroy a golem without themselves dying, but those days were becoming worryingly more common. As the enemy evolved, we were forced to do so ourselves.

Some of us had discovered how to kill a mouse before it could make a noise and alert its companions. These were our strongest warriors. I had learned from them. On the best days, I could kill three or four mice. They were good days, and Master was happy with our efforts.

But the noises at night were common.

They did not occur every night, but they were not uncommon. Each time I heard them from the house, I listened for a command, a call to action.

None ever came.

I could not help but feel I was failing Master. She was unhappy, and I was not helping.

But the feeling was forgotten each morning once we returned to mouse hunting. That work was fulfilling. Master smiled when she saw the mice we had killed. One day, she had seen the remains of a large battle between us and the mice. The corpses of the mice were more obvious than those of our fallen comrades, but torn hay soaked by mouse blood lay in several places. Master noticed. She seemed unhappy.

Master took the remains of fallen golems and buried them outside the barn, marking their graves with stones. Did she not know she could remake them? It did not matter. We did not mourn them. It was not within our capacity.

But she did.

And so we buried them, from that point on.




This night was worse than others.

I had not identified the noise before as anything other than loud voices. This night there were screams. Even the horses were rousted — they made more noise, moved uncomfortably in their stalls. Every being in the barn knew something was wrong. I felt more helpless than I ever had before.

Master needed us, but we were here and she was there. If not for the nights before, I would be sure the command for help would come. But these had always come and gone without so much as a "get ready". Master was casting aside her army and facing the threat alone. I did not understand why. I did not wonder about many things. This was one I did.

Something far off fell. Something heavy, off of a table maybe. The screaming became louder. Strange, I thought, that I could not hear an exchange of blows in this battle. I had only the faintest inkling that there was such a thing as psychological warfare. It was something only a Master could understand. I only knew it was a battle with no physical component. Its mechanisms were mysterious.

As if in response to the thought, I heard what sounded like a slap. Flesh against flesh — the material Masters were made of. At once, the voices stopped.

After a few long seconds, I heard a door slam.

The night was once again dark and silent. The tittering of mice was gone, and even the horses were still. Nothing stirred.

Suddenly, I realized that I had manifested my whip. For how long, I did not know. There were no mice, there was no battle. The weapon was unnecessary. Still, I could not bring myself to put it away.

The rest of the night passed without event.




Master was unhappy.

She had entered the barn at her usual time, but she had gone to the very back of it, a place she rarely visited for there were no horses. We had watched as she drew her knees up to her chest and hugged them, hiding her face behind her legs and underneath her long black hair. The wind today was quite strong, and it had been spooking the horses — many golems had died under restless hooves already, and their whinnies were frequent. Over the noise of the horses and the wind, it was almost impossible to hear Master. But she was making noise.

It was not words, it was not commands. It was purposeless noise, that spilled out of her without her wanting it to. Sometimes it would increase in intensity, sometimes it would be little more than a whisper, or cut out entirely. She wasn't just making noise, either. She was moving.

Shaking, to be exact. The shakes increased and lowered in intensity much like the noise, though not always at the same time. They seemed involuntary as well.

We, most of us, sat and watched her. When she came in to take care of the horses, we had learned to ignore her, but under any other circumstances, we would gather around her, and wait. This was one of those circumstances.

No commands came. No instructions. I do not know if I expected any. But I knew that the right thing to do was to wait for them. Minutes passed like this. Some of us had laid down — we knew that Master liked that we "rested", and there was little else to do. Sometimes Master would lift her head, and pass an arm under her nose. But she would then go back to her previous position.

The wind knocked something large into the side of the barn, startling the horses further. The cacophony drowned Master out completely, but she rose her head. She said something to the horses, something intentless, and then looked at us. Her eyes were red, and her cheeks were wet. Her nose was leaking. Her hair was not as straight as it usually was. But she just stared.

"Go," she ordered in a few more words than that.

The majority of the golems departed, content to return to their mouse hunting. I and three others stayed. Jimmy, Terry, Jerry and I. I glanced at the golems with whom I shared the most solidarity.

"Go," she ordered again, louder, but we did not move.

She ordered the same again and again — in many words, in many ways, but she could not get us to leave. I could not speak for the others, but I knew why I stayed. I was wrong, at first. The noises and shakes were not purposeless. They may have been unintentional, but an image had begun to form in my mind. They communicated to me something that Master had been hiding from us.

"Help," they said.

Over and over.

"Help."

I did not know how to help. But I knew that her order to leave was contradictory. I searched for something I could do, some assistance I could provide. I looked to my companions, to see if they knew, but they were as motionless as I was. If I could not help, if I could not fulfill that order, then I was disobeying her command to leave. I could not disobey Master. I had committed to helping, and I would.

It was unfortunate, that she spent most of her time in the other building. A golem is best at learning what their Master does and does not like when they are able to see their Master at times that they are not commanding. I had only been in the other house once before, once that first night I was made. I searched for something that could help me. Help me help her.

I found it.

I began to stride forward, towards her. She recoiled, but did not stop me. She had ceased giving her order. She only watched me.

I began to climb up her calves, but was having trouble finding footholds and handholds. I was struggling to grasp for anything that could heave me up when Master grabbed me and lifted me, then placing me on her knee. She stared at me. She looked unhappy, still. Her eyes were filled with water, which she tried to blink out many times over. But she still stared at me.

I, in turn, stared at her finger. She had one hand on her knee, the same that had lifted me, and I began to intently stare at its pointer finger. But she did not move it. If she was not moving her finger, how could she know I was staring at it so intently? My featureless face's ability to communicate such nuances paled in comparison to the capacity that Master's had. The most expressive things on my body were my arms and legs. So I used them.

I walked up to her finger, and clung to it. Finally, she lifted her hand, and I went with it. The movements were slow, at first, and then at once very very fast, then slow again. Her cheeks had remained wet, her nose remained leaky, but her mouth had curled up into a smile. I think I was making her happy. I think I was helping. So I kept clinging.

The three golems below me had begun to move towards Master as well, pulling on her pant leg to get her attention. She put her right hand in front of them, and they too wrapped themselves around her fingers. She made another involuntary noise, and another involuntary shake, but they were of a different nature. She moved her hands randomly — up and down, left to right, side to side — and just watched us cling to her.

The noise and shake became more frequent, until the noise was loud enough to be easily heard over the wind and the movement vigorous enough to give me trouble in hanging onto her fingers. But they were not noises and movements of the same type as before. An image had begun to form in my mind, but this wasn't a command.

This time, it was approval.

This sound, I realized, was gratitude.

We had helped. Just as I had been wanting to do for countless nights behind me.

But then I heard a noise. The deeper voice, from the other house. It was loud, and demanding. And, I realized, it was saying Master's name.

"Martí!" it called.

Master quickly began pulling us off of her fingers and set us on the floor.

"Martí!" it called again.

The noise of gratitude had ceased, and she began to stand. But I stopped her. She looked down at me, pulling at her pant leg. I let go, and backed up. Now that she was watching, I had forgotten all of my practice. It had occurred to me, three days ago while hunting mice, that there was a way to communicate to her that we could help. That she could call on us. Count on us.

It came back to me, slowly. I first pointed at her. Then, I put both my hands around where my mouth should be, in a "calling" fashion. Lastly, I pointed to myself, and then to the others. She looked at me, blankly. My body was not made for communicating. I tried again, repeating the same motions, but added two more: I manifested my whip, and held it up above my head.

"Martí!" the voice called, even louder than before.

Master turned her head to look in the direction of the noise, and then looked back at me. She saw me pointing. Pointing towards the voice. I repeated all the same motions as I had before, but ended by pointing to the voice. Then, I repeated only the raising of the whip, and pointing to the voice.

Only at the last raising of the whip did I see her expression change. It became harder. It became commanding. Intimidating. The best qualities of a Master. I knew I shouldn't feel proud — I knew it was her place to feel proud of us, and not ours to feel proud of her. But I did. In spite of myself, I did.

She finally left, running her nose across her arms several times on her way out. Soon after she had left, I heard the noises I usually heard at night. I heard the battle, the continuous battle within that house. A battle that had bred only one blow, though I did not know from whom to whom. Hopefully, that would change soon. Hopefully, she would call us.

For now, though, there were mice to hunt.




I knew that noise. I hadn't heard it before, but it was familiar, in the same way tomes and horses and chandeliers and cats were. It was a sound that was built into me.

A cannon.

I sat up. It had fired once, and echoed, and was gone. Was it a replacement for the battle sounds tonight? I had not heard any, yet. Perhaps one last decisive blow had been struck. But who threw the punch, and who received?

In the meager light that penetrated into our hut from a full moon outside, I could see that Tilly had sat up too. I wasn't alone, then, in listening to the battles at night. At least Tilly listened, too, and in that I found a type of comfort. But that comfort was outweighed by the discomfort of not knowing who had fallen. I looked to Tilly. We did not make eye contact, for we had no eyes, but we knew we were looking at one another. Looking into each other's face.

We stood in unison, and left our hut. The blue glow from the cracks in the old building's walls that counted as windows illuminated five to six other golems standing outside their huts. Not everyone had risen, but some had. We all waited and listened. Perhaps soon there would be a voice, something to tell us who the victor was. There was nothing.

I did not think any longer on it. I walked straight towards the barn doors. From behind me, I could hear the soft, dry footsteps that told me some of my companions were following me. That was good. Depending on the victor, we may have to fight to avenge our Master. In case of such a scenario, I picked up a needle I saw laying on the ground.

I pushed my way outside through a crack between the doors. The graveyard of fallen golems was large, now. It was becoming difficult to drag the torn and twisted hay far enough to be buried somewhere a previous golem hadn't. The mice were getting smarter, and some had attacked in the night when we laid in our huts for the sake of Master. Such small enemies we faced together compared to the storm she faced alone. Our burdens were unfairly split.

I set a foot past the last pebble that marked a grave, and looked at the imposing structure of Master's house. Our birthplace. A holy land. Sometimes, light poured out one of the windows. No such light was there tonight. I realized I had paused — because I had not gone past these stones in the last year, I realized. I had never been this far from the barn since I was put there.

With an unsure first step, I began to lead the march to the house. Soon we were swallowed by grass and had to struggle to keep our path in view. The house became closer and closer, larger and larger, until we were upon it. Our first challenge was getting in. We had found what appeared to be the main entrance, but this building was better maintained than the barn, and there were no cracks in the door to speak of. My first instinct was to —

But just as I was leaning down to check if we could fit under the door, it began to open. I moved aside to let it swing freely. Once it had opened fully, we could see into the house. To the right were the stairs, but straight ahead was a hallway, black as oil. Past the hallway, moonlight revealed to us a figure, facing away from the door. A faint wind blew.

In the dark, it was impossible to know for certain, but it appeared to have the long hair I associated with Master. It was completely silent, but it was not without motion.

It was shaking violently.

Tilly was the first to step inside this time. I followed her as best I could before losing her in the darkness and going by sound. Accounting for the possibility that the foe was strong enough to take a cannonball, I readied my needle, tightening my grip and raising it to be horizontal.

When we were finally able to see the figure from the other side, it became clear it was Master. A weight lifted off of myself at the realization. She was standing behind a couch, on which another figure sat, but this one was more than just silent. It was holding a large piece of paper, which used to be white but was now black in the light of the moon. Master dropped something. Looking over, I saw that it was a small cannon.

Looking back up, I saw the decisive blow.

A hole in the foe's head, that the moon's glow was perfectly shining into.

Master had won.




The task of killing mice had been forgotten. Those of us that did not venture into the house might have stayed and fought, but Master had not ordered us to do so. She was unhappy. Instructions were few.

The night after the shot, we had watched her bury her foe like she had our fallen golems. The task was careful. The foe did not deserve it, but sometimes enemies were like that — some demanded respect, even in death. I had not fought an enemy like this; the mice fought dirty, and deserved no such courtesy. Their bodies were left to rot and be eaten by other mice.

Once she had finished the burying, she returned to her house, and we followed her. This seemed to be our usual state of being, now. She paid us little mind, but we followed her and she did not stop us. Master seemed busy. She had ceased to take care of the horses. I suspected they would die.

In her room, she consulted her tomes quite often. They occupied the majority of her time. I worried that she had forgotten about us, that she would not see it fit to give us new commands. Already, some of us had returned to the barn. But I was sure there was a better way to assist Master. As long as I could, I would watch her.

When she slept, I would lay on the ground of her room, like she wanted us to. Sometimes I would follow her finger, to see if she noticed. She hadn't, yet. I could not cheer her.

Still, she did not seem to be unhappy as she was before. She was unhappy, but she was working. Much like I might be after a long day of unsuccessfully hunting mice, it was the type of unhappy that was associated with doing. Interrupting her work would not help. So I just watched.

On the fourth night, she went outside and dug her foe up again. She had closed the door on her way out of her room before I could reach it, and I was unable to fit beneath the door, so I had climbed onto the desk and peered out the window. From my vantage point, I could see that she was not bringing the body out of its grave. Instead, she was doing something to its face. Master's body covered her work, so I did not see what.

She put something into her bag, and then reburied the body. This time, however, she placed something large and blue over the grave so that the freshly disturbed dirt was not visible. The purpose was not clear.

When she returned to her room, she sat at her desk, and looked directly at me for the first time in days. I at first expected some kind of instruction. But then she picked me up and gently placed me on the ground. She needed her desktop to herself. I understood, and was content to observe her once more. Her actions were curious, but beyond me.

She sat like that for many hours, and slept only once the sun had begun to rise, never having left her seat for anything.




I had deigned it good to lay down the entire day. Master had left early in the morning, and it was now late in the evening. Her tomes were still here, I could not imagine she had left for good, but she had not taken us with her. There was nothing to do but wait. There had not been a battle in a long time. Master had no foes, and neither had we. The horses were certainly dead — their neighing did not come as it had before. I did not wish to return to the golems in the barn. It was only myself and Tilly who remained in the house. The rest had left, gone back to fight the mice.

Master had not made new golems in quite some time. I doubted that their efforts against the mice were fruitful. Their numbers would be dwindling, their strength fading with it. The mice would have the carcasses of the horses to feed on, their numbers would grow. The battle was losing. Yet I knew that if I was still there, I would fight as well. They were good golems. They did as Master told them.

I did not know what separated them from myself and Tilly.

I did not care to know.

We sat up immediately as we heard Master enter through the front door. We were already waiting in the hallway, there to greet her as she came in. She looked very tired, and was carrying six shining bags. She looked at us, but then walked past us, and set the bags down on the kitchen counter. She stood there, leaning on the counter, for several minutes, before going to climb the stairs.

Tilly and I had more trouble climbing the stairs than she did, and so we were only three steps up before she had come back down again, carrying with her several tomes and her bag. She opened a door I had not seen her open before, a door next to the stairs up that led down into a basement. She took the tomes and bag down the stairs, and Tilly and I began to follow. We had not gotten down more than four steps before Master did as she had before, changing directions before we could effectively follow her. She came up the stairs with nothing in her arms, and went into the kitchen — or so I guessed from the sounds of her footsteps. Tilly and I had begun to climb back up the stairs when Master stepped over us, carrying the shining bags. She turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs, and was once again out of sight. Tilly and I changed direction, and started to climb down once more, only to see Master climbing the stairs again.

She was fast today.

But she did not walk over us. Instead, she picked us up, and carried us to the top of the stairs. She set us down on the floor near the couch, and then gave us our first instruction in a long, long time:

"Stay here."

She shut the door leading downstairs, and we did as we were told. It felt good. We were noticed by Master. And she did not tell us to go back to the barn. We were only to stay. So we stayed.

She was beyond the door for almost as long as she had been gone outside. Evening had turned to night had turned into morning before she came up again — but she only came up to grab something from the kitchen, a glass of water and a loaf of bread, before returning to the basement. Tilly and I did not move to follow. Morning turned to afternoon turned to evening before we saw Master again.

When she came up, it was slowly.

And something trailed behind her.

A figure, larger than she was, was taking slow steps up the stairs. When it came into the light, I manifested a whip reflexively. It was him.

It was the foe.

But Master intervened. "Friend," she said, and repeated several times.

I looked at him, and felt a name come to mind.

Abel.

His name was Abel. And there was only one way I could know that without hearing it. Tilly demanifested her whip, and I did the same. Not that we would have been able to do anything against him. But if he had been a foe, we couldn't help but try.

I approached him, and touched him. He was wet, and a little malleable. Clay. He was made out of clay. But he didn't look like it. He looked very much like Master did — his texture was that of flesh, he had facial features, I saw hair (likely made out of Master's). I did not know his purpose. But there was something that drew my attention more.

Master had collapsed on the couch. As soon as I heard her fall, I ran to see if she was okay. She was shaking. I had to help. I tried to climb the couch, but I was having a hard time finding handholds and footholds. It did not take long, though, before Master picked me up.

She extended her arm and rolled onto her back, bringing me high above her. Looking down, her eyes were watery, her cheeks wet like before. But things were different. I did not worry.

She was smiling.




The day after Abel had been created, Master had slept for an entire day, but I did not lay down to join her. I instead watched Abel. He did not seem to follow Master, nor did he take on one task. For long stretches of time, he would sit on the couch and open a large paper that was sitting on the small table in front of him. The paper was filled with words, and he would occasionally turn pages. Sometimes, he would put down one paper, and pick it back up again, starting from the front and going through to the back another time. I did not see the purpose in this action, but it was similar to not seeing purpose in the killing of mice. The purpose did not matter. Master wanted it, and so it was important. Doubts did not come to mind.

But that was not all that Abel did. He would also go into the washroom sometimes. He would close the door, lock it, and then stand in front of the mirror. He did not do much here. Master had given him clothes, and so he sometimes adjusted them, but the majority of his time was spent only staring. Staring at himself. Sometimes, before he left the washroom, he would press down a lever that then made a quite loud wet sound. I had seen Master do this before. Its meaning was lost on me.

Abel would also go into the kitchen, pull ingredients out of the pantry, and construct sandwiches. Sometimes, he would carry a sandwich with him, but other times he would leave them in the kitchen. When Master finally woke and came downstairs, she had eaten some of his sandwiches, and returned others to a large white pantry that glowed and hummed.

Abel did not much change his behavior in the coming days. Sometimes, when Master was around, he would look at her and smile. Even rarer, I would hear him say words. A greeting, that he and Master exchanged. I had not envied him before, but for that I did. Otherwise, Abel was unremarkable.

But that was no matter. Master began to create other golems.

Sometimes from her room, sometimes from the basement, new creations would be made from useless objects within the house. Candlesticks, silverware, bowls, firewood, dolls, stuffed animals… Master seemed happier than ever before, and her enthusiasm showed in her work. She was becoming ornate with her golems. She carved faces on some, embedded jewels in others. Some were given tasks — what used to be the stand upon which several coats rested had become a cleaner. It swept the floors and dusted the shelves. Several baby-sized dolls worked together to wash the dishes that Abel needed to create sandwiches and which Master needed to cook on. There were two golems made from shoe-leather that methodically went through the house and tapped on all the walls. There were three wooden golems that followed Master everywhere she went, and did small tasks for her as she commanded them to.

Tilly and I were never given such a purpose. But that did not mean we were ignored.

Often Master had picked us up and placed us on her shoulder, instructing us to sit there. We did as we were told, and we watched her work. It took a great many tea bags and geodes to create the golems she did. It seemed that each day, Master would flip to a random page in one of her tomes, press her finger down somewhere, and then begin reading. This would also precede the creation of a new and different golem.

After the house had become incredibly full with them, Master had taken to sending some away before creating more. On the same day that she created a golem that sang out of a salt shaker, she would tell the golems she had made out of paper to go into the woods. It was so for many days. Sometimes Master would leave the house and return with ingredients for the pantry, or yet more tomes. Her library was increasing to incredible size, and she was not reading the tomes faster than she was gaining them. I knew the goal of Master's studying.

She was working to become stronger.

I waited for the day that Master told us to bear arms and set into the world beyond the house. It would come. One day.

But once, when Master was playing with her black rectangular object, a knock came at the door downstairs.

Master suddenly looked very unhappy, and waited. Another knock came. She rose from the couch, and gave an instruction to every golem she passed:

"Hide."

Luckily, she had not made many large golems, but it was still easier for the smaller ones to hide. Some, that were relatively unaltered from their materials, simply went still. Others, like myself and Tilly, crawled behind table legs, hid in containers, or simply ran to a far away room.

Once we had all gone out of sight, Master answered the door on the third knocking. I heard voices. Master's, and others. Deeper voices.

Foes.

I readied my whip, but stayed perfectly still. I would wait for her command. Or, none would come — she had faced foes alone before and won. I did not have doubts of her strength.

The voices continued for many, many minutes. It was only after some time had passed that I realized the original foe's voice — Abel's voice — was among them. I had only ever seen him have short exchanges with Master. I did not realize he could have so much to say.

Before twenty minutes had passed, the doors had closed, and the voices were gone. I stepped out from behind the chair leg, and looked at Master. She was still standing in front of the door, Abel beside her. She did not move. I made my way towards her, so I might see her face, read her expression. But I was unable to. She ran up the stairs before I could read her, and I heard the door to her bedroom close with a loud noise.

I did not follow her.

Something told me she had meant to go alone.




All of Master's creations laid down at night. All of them had to be taught, as we were taught so long ago. Sometimes Master would forget to teach one, and it would wander at night, unsure of what to do, or else continue with its task even though the task no longer required doing. Some, the smartest ones, would lay down anyways, following the example of the older and wiser golems.

Master had been in her room for a week, allowing only her wooden golems inside with her. It worried me. Some golems, without being given new tasks, had taken to laying the entire day and night, foregoing any movement at all. I found myself more restless than that. I had made a post outside Master's door, along with the shoe-leather golems and Tilly. Tilly would sometimes stand, walk to the end of the hall, and come back, and lay down again. The shoe-leather golems did less than that. I was more like the shoe-leather golems. We laid and did not move, waiting for when Master would inevitably come out.

Tonight was windy.

It was already difficult to hear Master moving in her room, but it was impossible now. No noises reached us except for a branch that repetitively hit against the side of the house, and the howling that filled the spaces inbetween. There was little moonlight tonight. The single window at the end of the hall provided almost no light. Only stars were visible in the cloudless sky above. Stars that I sometimes stared at, in absence of anything to do.

Then, a rather loud thump came from within Master's room. I sat up, at attention at once. Another thump. Then another, and another, in quick succession. Then there was no noise. Was it purposeful? Did something fall? I wondered if Master needed help. If she did, I was not able to give it. I was hopeless. Still, I stood up.

I would not be a good golem if I did not try.

I tried knocking on the door, to get her attention, but I was not strong enough. I doubted that I had made any noise, but if I had, it was swallowed completely by the wind. I tried again, with a similar result. I then looked towards the shoe-leather golems.

They were unnamed. Master had forgotten to name many of her most recent golems. Names were likely unnecessary to Masters — they need only know your abilities. Such as that shoe-leather was heavier than hay, and could thus knock on a door. I tried to grab their attention with a wave, but was unable to. I walked towards them, and began to hit them. They stood up. That had grabbed their attention.

I pointed towards the door. They did not understand, so I demonstrated. I pounded ineffectually on the door, and then motioned for them to join me.

They did not move.

I was not their Master, I could not command them. They did not understand my role. They did not understand why I was requesting their help. They only looked at me. They could help, but did not understand. On the other hand, Tilly could understand, but did not help.

She went to the door and pounded once, only to show that she followed me.

Master was unhappy, and there was nothing we could do. Master could be in danger, and there was nothing we could do. Master had not left her room in days, and there was nothing we could do.

I knew I was doing nothing. I knew there was nothing to be done. But still, I pounded. I battered the door with all my might, over and over, fighting against its heft with willpower alone. Perhaps if I continued, the world would give in to my wishes, and open the door. Perhaps if I continued, Master would open the door, and show me everything was okay. Perhaps —

Tilly touched me.

I ceased my punching and looked at her.

We did not make eye contact, for we had no eyes, but we knew we were looking at one another. Looking into each other's face. She had placed a hand on my head, like Master sometimes did to pick me up. Tilly could not lift me like Master could, but the gesture was clear. An image started forming in my mind. It wasn't as full as images before it had been. I could not make out specifics, there was no instruction. There was no clear message. But there was intent.

Tilly was comforting me.

I did not understand it fully. I was not in need of comforting. It was Master who needed us. Was I acting irrationally? Was it that, in my desire to help, I had foregone thought and become defective? Was I not calm? Did I need to be calm? Never in my life had I asked so many questions. I was confused. Never in my life had I been so confused.

Maybe it was not that I needed to be comforted. Maybe Tilly needed to be comforted. I was not sure. I did not know. I was lost. But that made the most sense. I did not know why a golem should need a hand on their head, but if Tilly put her hand on mine, it would follow that she would see the reason. She needed a hand. So I placed my hand on her head.

We stood like this, hands on each other's heads, for minutes. Neither of us moved. The wind did not let up, and no more thumps came. Master was either dead or safe. There was nothing we could do. There was nothing we could do.

I let my hand fall to my side, and Tilly let her hand fall to hers.

Then, the door to Master's room tore open. Master stepped over us, and marched downstairs. Tilly and I did not hesitate a single second to follow her.

Several of the golems had begun to stand up just from her presence, but there was one that was already standing. In the kitchen, Abel — one of few golems to lay down and get up seemingly whenever he felt like it — was making a sandwich in the kitchen. Master strode directly to him. He looked up from his meal and began to speak a greeting, but it did not come quick enough. Master's finger pierced through his forehead, and he began to be demade.

His fleshy outer layer quickly gave way to the pounds of wet clay inside, which in turn started to melt and break down until I could no longer see him behind the counter. The house was still for a moment, the wind continuing to berate the walls and windows. Then, Master began to do the same to the nearby golems.

The dishwashing dolls toppled over and lay limp on the floor from where they had stood on the stove. Then, the paper golems on the table in front of the couch had unfolded and lay flat. Cloth unraveled, string unwound, and other objects went rigid as they had been before they were imbued with life. Master methodically made her way through her creations. None ran, none fought back. We were no longer of use to her. If we could not help, there was no point in living. Our fate was natural. An endpoint. Not one to be feared.

Tilly moved closer to me. I heard her twine body creak as she did so. I turned to look at her.

This was the end for us. Master had bigger projects. I wonder if she noticed that Master's bag was especially full, too. She was not just getting rid of us. She was leaving this place behind.

I thought that when she would leave, she would take us with her. That we were her army, that we would partake in some great battle. That would have been a more noble way to die. Honorable. Dying in the service of Master. But not every golem experienced the highest of honors. Such was our existence. Such was our purpose. And I could not imagine a more righteous life.

The room was a mess of materials. Clay and wood and metal and cloth, thrown this way and that by the demaking of golems. Master surveyed the wreckage, and breathed deeply. She did not look happy, but she did not look unhappy. She looked like she was doing something. Something that she needed to be doing.

Then, she turned around.

And saw us.

Immediately, she kneeled down, and extended her finger, but stopped.

We had watched her finger, followed it with our heads. While her hand hung in mid air, I could see a green material smeared on her finger. Something that glittered slightly, like crushed rock made into paste. She waved her finger randomly, for just one second, and we followed it. At once, she smiled, and made that noise of gratitude I remembered from before she struck down her foe. But then, her expression changed. It was not unhappy before, but it was now. She began to shake, and her eyes began to water. She was frowning.

Had we displeased her? Had we done something wrong? I could not think of a way to help her — I did not know the issue, and following her finger had made her sad. There was nothing more I could think to do. I only waited.

But Tilly moved.

Tilly moved into Master's finger, and unraveled.

Master stood at once, and backed away. I only stared at Tilly's remains. There was something in me, something that was drawn to them. Curiosity? Fear? I did not have the concept in my head for what it was. Something I should not have felt. Something that even overcame my worry for Master.

I looked back at Master, and waited. Waited for her to demake me too. To put me with Tilly.

But she didn't. She stayed away.

I stepped towards her, and she stepped back. I ran towards her, and she only stepped back once more, and then stopped. I made it to her pant leg, and tugged, like I had that night I was trying to climb it. I knew it would make her touch me. And if she touched me, I would be demade. I wanted to be demade. I wanted to be with Tilly.

And then she touched me.

But I stayed alive.

She picked me up by the head, and then put me in the palm of her hand. Her hand that didn't have the smear. She brought me to her face, and pressed me on her lips. I did not understand the gesture, but it was over soon. She looked at me, and began to speak. The words were not many, but it was still difficult to understand. An image began to form in my mind.

She was broken.

No.

She made us.

No, it was more than that.

She was broken, but then she made us, and we fixed her.

I had no thoughts. I just stared at her. She lowered me, and put me on the ground.

"Go," she said.

I did not move.

"Go," again.

I started to move, but then stopped.

I could not leave. Why couldn't I leave? I had been commanded, I was being told, but I was having trouble bringing myself to follow through. Then I looked over, and saw Tilly's remains. That was why. I could not leave without them.

The front door swung open on its own, and I carried Tilly outside. It swung shut behind me.

The wind had stopped.

"Go," the command echoed in my mind.

Go where? Do what? There was nowhere to go, nothing to do. I was alone. No Master. No companions.

Companions.

The barn.

I began to walk to the barn. The grass surrounded me, as tall as my head, but it did not make me lose my way. I was soon at the front doors. The graveyard had visibly grown since last I had seen it. When was that? Months ago? Time was meaningless. It had been a long time.

I pushed through the cracks of the barn door, and saw my old home. Gone.

There were only so many huts left. Some had been destroyed. Most definitely by mice. Needles lay scattered about. Some were crusted with blood, others had never seen a successful blow. Torn bits of hay lay here and there. My first thought was to bury them.

No.

I did not want to.

The only body I wished to bury was Tilly's.

But she did not deserve a grave among the many others outside. They were faceless, nameless. I could not write, but I could give her importance. I would bury her inside, in the middle of the barn. Alone.

That was when I noticed an orange glow from outside. I walked into a horse stall — strangely empty — and peeked through a crack in the old building's wood.

Master's old house was burning. Not all of it had gone yet, but it was burning. All of the evidence she had ever been there would be gone within a year. I wondered momentarily if she would do the same to the barn, but then I saw her. Her bag on her, something in her hand, she was walking away from the wreckage, out beyond the trees that I had never been past. Where the clay came from, and the ingredients came from, and the teabags came from, and the tomes came from. The world.

It did not interest me. It was a world for Masters. I was a golem.

It occurred to me that I had to honor Master's memory, too. I owed her something.

And so, I turned around, and picked up a needle.

It was a task as worthy as any other.

Mice.

I would kill the mice.

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