You first took flight on a red dawn.
There had been no time for test flights; no time to learn your pilot or even yourself. At the very moment of your completion, they hoisted a stranger into your deck and urged him on. After all, you were the sieged Halcandrans' last beacon of hope. If you failed, the war was lost. They needed you, and they needed you now.
Your pilot's desperation had seeped through his hands to the control board. You analyzed his erratic heartbeat and his shallow breaths, and you cradled his whispered words,
"Please… please, Lor Starcutter. Halcandra needs you."
That's when you learned your name.
"Please… protect us."
Bluewhite electric life was crackling through your wires; you were filled the vigor of mere existence, fueled by knowing that this stranger, this frail human creature – he was relying upon you.
"Can you hear me?"
Yes yes tell me what I need to do
You felt his heart skip, and his hands left your control board. He was afraid of you. You wanted to soothe him, promise that you hadn't meant to startle him that way.
Slowly, his trembling hands returned to the board, and you shivered in delight.
How can I protect you?
"There's a war, Lor Starcutter. We're under attack. You need to defeat them."
Them. Them, who were them?
Then your pilot closed his eyes and you saw them.
Hordes of ships black as tar, all sharp angles and evil glares. Ships hideously soulless – these ships, they had no sentience, no conscious, no emotions. They were dull husks invaded and controlled by waspish destruction-seeking men.
That's when you learned fear.
But this new tiny being encased in you wanted your protection. So did his people, the Halcandrans. Your oars spread wide and under your gentle pilot's guidance you leapt eagerly into the air.
There was a fiery disk on the horizon, climbing its toilsome way into the heights of heaven. All the world was cast in its bloody red glow. Up into this carmine sky you rose, higher and higher, astonished and gleeful at your own speed.
You turned and spun and plunged, only to arc around and soar ever higher.
"Lor," your pilot uttered, and you felt ashamed for your revelry: there were more important things to be attending to.
But his heartbeat slowed just a little, and his lips pulled up curiously at the ends.
"You're funny, Lor."
Affection? Unable to help yourself, you did another loopdeloop.
You hovered in place, startled by the change in his tone of voice. You both waited, watched. It didn't take them long to arrive after that.
They swarmed out from the crimson disk: a black locust cloud of tiny darting ships and their glinting geometric eyes. These were what made your pilot afraid. They made you tremble with newfound rage and fury. How dare they target your pilot's people? How dare they cross you?
You met them in air before they could meet you. The sheer brute force was yours, the commands, your pilots'. Together you ducked and weaved and darted amongst the swarm of ships that bit at your metal exterior with gnat-like persistency; you felt yourself become riddled with holes and cracks, but under his orders you fought on. You wanted to fight on, until there was no evil left to destroy, until Halcandra faced no threat.
To the end, your pilot commanded you. But you were too distracted.
You were too absorbed in listening to his words, and not to his life signs. You failed to even notice that as your hull took damage, so too did his fragile human body – such was the connection between ship and pilot. Two souls, so intricately connected, so beautifully united… they shared the same wounds, the same inflictions.
But you tried so hard to listen to him that you didn't even notice.
The damage was too great. You, being designed for war and for perfection, you withstood it, but your pilot, he couldn't.
By the time you checked his heartbeat, it was a weak fluttering thing, like the futile beats of a captured butterfly's wings against the inside of a human fist.
In horror you paused midflight and hovered, you reached into yourself and felt him more intimately;
Can I fix it what's wrong
No something's wrong can I fix it
Something blasted into your side. With a hideous screech of metal, it twisted half your wing before tearing it completely off. You weren't hovering any longer, but instead falling, yet you couldn't even care -
His heartbeat flatlined; the heat left his body. The connection between your minds snapped as his soul fled him, and suddenly you felt so alone, so horribly empty and broken, plummeting helplessly from the sky, with no desire to ever even stop the mad descent.
This was the end of your brief, passionate life. Your fighting was for naught, you had failed and your pilot had been killed. There could be nothing after that, everything would end.
You wanted to die.
You deserved to die.
But you didn't.
You crashed into the black depths of a volcano; your overburdened hull cracked open upon impact. Metal scraps and torn flesh were tossed in disarray around your grounded belly.
But it didn't kill you.
There was no mercy like that in this world.
You lived on, your ravaged sides reaming with stinging pain, and something deeper in you, much deeper, screaming silently, ever screaming, at the body sprawled within your halls.
This wasn't how it was supposed to end.
For days you screamed without making a single sound. You thrashed and kicked and fought, without moving a single inch.
The Halcandrans did find you again.
They went looking for you, dressed in garments for celebration and good-will; the war had been won. In the final throes of your pilot's life, the two of you had managed to drive away the enemy.
They dragged his corpse out of you and spoke of proper funeral rites, of some sort of ritual burning. You didn't like the sound of it. You wanted him back, even if he wasn't alright. But they carried him away and you never did see him again.
A few more days of agony passed before the Halcandrans' return.
But they wouldn't repair you. No, they declared the site a sacred resting place. They left you in pieces, just the way you were at the crash, to commemorate the holy day on which you had saved them.
They built a shrine around you and worshipped you as their savior.
For love. For adoration. You hated it all. Your metal flesh was searing in agony, your body lay scattered over filth, and not a single Halcandran stepped forward to speak to you. If only someone would walk inside! If only they'd touch the control board, and seek you out; you could plead with them, you could tell them how much pain you felt, you could beg them to repair your body and fix the physical wounds, if not the others.
But no one did.
While you suffered an endless hell, they gathered around you and sang praises of gratitude and thanks.
No one ever spoke to you. They forgot you were sentient. They took you for dead, like a fallen hero that would never rise again.
Time passed. Visits by the Halcandrans went from a weekly routine, to a yearly holiday, to sparse infrequent gatherings. Eventually, they stopped coming altogether.
They forgot why you were built. They forgot why their ancestors had worshipped you. In time, they forgot you.
The shrine you never wanted was eventually left abandoned in the dark bowels of the volcano.
Thousands of years confined to a tomb that the Halcandrans had the audacity to call a resting place, as if you were a warrior like your pilot who had died that day, as if you had seen your prime and would never fight again. As if you wouldn't still want to defend the people you had so long ago protected. As if you weren't lonely.
Time became endless; you knew not day or night, you knew not either hunger, thirst, or death. Nothing banished the monotony, nor the ceaseless pain. Not for a long time.
When, finally, you heard someone picking around the ruined shrine again, you didn't at first believe there was anything there. Too long had passed in complete silence; you didn't believe in people anymore. What you suffered was some sort of eternal torment; hell or purgatory, or some terrible mix between the two, and no one could interrupt that.
But the sound didn't cease, of shifting rocks and low muttering. Hope stirred in your mechanical heart, but you didn't let it live. You hated this intruder. You hated him because a thousand years of love for something that abandoned you inevitably breeds hate.
He crept closer in reverential awe.
A delicate hand brushed aside the dust over a cracked oar. He drew in a shaky breath. "Amazing! This is it… The magnificent ship I've been searching for!"
… searching for?
The Halcandran trailed down your side, sifting rocks and dirt, uncovering splits and dents and cracks. He placed his palm flat against your crest, and for once you feel calmer. Softer, sad, "they didn't fix you, Lor?"
You know my name.
He was speaking to you instead of at you or about you. "But you're… incredible." He circled around, "All the parts must be here still… If I could find them all…"
But what mechanic could possibly know how to fix you? The Halcandrans had long ago forgotten your very existence; the old art must have been lost. No matter his good intentions, this new mechanic couldn't possibly help you. The wounds were too great; your body too scattered.
The Halcandran circled around to your other side with added bounce in his step. Delicately, persistently, he wiped away the red grime. When it stained his hands red, he used instead his white cloak.
Go away you can't fix me.
But you couldn't deny the attention after such terrible solitude was nice. He was gentle, sympathetic. Every new gash he uncovered was met with a pained wince, and he tenderly rubbed the edges as if in silent forgiveness for something he hadn't even done. He spoke soothingly; again and again he reassured you that you weren't too far gone. He often mused aloud what your completed design must be like; he often glanced about the shrine's cavern in search of those parts that were lost.
"The easiest part is this," he confessed as he steadily and patiently unburied you, "but I'm getting worried about finding all the parts. This whole place is a complete mess. They really did just leave you to rot, didn't they?"
With anger, you silently agreed.
A compassionate hand laid flat against your oars. You had nearly forgotten what human interaction was like – to begin with, you'd never had much experience with it. Unconsciously, you read his pulse through his touch and found it slightly fast, but not in fear or worry – simple, raw happiness.
He was happy he had found you.
He was delighted, excited, hopeful.
You both hated and loved him, then. You wanted to rage that he was late, and you were hurt, and who was he anyway to disturb your torture?
"Huh." The Halcandran removed his hand from you and studied his palm. "That was… weird."
Did you feel something?
The Halcandran shrugged. "I'm Magolor, by the way," he called over his shoulder as he trotted down the pile of rubble.
"Now, if only I could find those parts…" Hunched over, your Magolor set about digging through the rocks. His once spotless white and gold cloak was now smudged all over with redbrown clay and dirt; his gloves were in a similar state, and now he was thoughtlessly shoveling around through debris in search of things he wasn't even certain he could find.
Something in you broke again.
But not in a bad way, you didn't think.
"This might be harder than I anticipated…" muttered the Halcandran, wiping his brow. "I'm not even sure if everything's here."
Please, it is here, I'm all here. You knew that nothing had fallen too far, that all the parts were in this very cavern, because they were still you.
Your energy was far depleted; you could barely think much less move, but you needed to help him. You had to help him. In your mind's eye you could see every metal shard, every spring and every coil, in however many pieces they lay. In fact, Magolor was passing very closely by one of the stars on your crest, albeit buried now beneath feet of rugged earth.
With an astronomical effort you concentrated all your will onto that one single star. It hurtto focus so wholly on a severed scrap of yourself, but you knew you had to. Without you, Magolor would never find all the pieces he needed – and maybe he could fix you and maybe he couldn't, but you didn't want him to go, you didn't want to see him walk away in disappointment like you couldn't be anything any more.
Finally, painstakingly, the star trembled by your sheer effort; a few loose pebbles atop it rolled off.
Magolor please! Look that way!
The Halcandran was wandering further away, his brow furrowed into an unhappy u.
Please! If only he could hear you!
You heaved everything you had into this one tiny thing, he needed to know!
The star shot up from the ground, arced in a wobbly projectile, and plunked down to lay still. Energy spent, you could do nothing more.
You feared at first your struggling had all been for naught, but Magolor paused. Slowly, very slowly, he turned and stared at the star. "That… wasn't there before."
Magolor cautiously picked his way back, and cradled the star in his hands. Rising, he glanced back at you. "The Lor Starcutter…" he whispered.
He held out the star. "Did you… do this?"
You could've sighed in relief, but instead sat motionless, waiting for him to become certain.
He neared you, the star nestled comfortably in his palms. Apprehension and amazement rotated in his eyes. "You… did, didn't you? You're helping me?"
You found enough energy to warm the star in his hands.
His amber eyes widened. You felt his heart skip a beat; he closed his fingers lightly around the star.
"I'm going to fix you, Lor."
Magolor set to work. The ancient shrine he cleared out, exposing again the marble floor, before the passage of years had buried it. You personally had no care for that floor, or any other design of the old Halcandrans, but you did care that Magolor did it for you.
In the process, under his guide, you steadily built strength and shook any fragment Magolor happened by, so as to make their discovery by him more imminent.
Always, he spoke to you as he worked. He still had never heard you speak back, but regardless he addressed you as if in expectation of reply, and after that initial star, he never seemed surprised or frightened when you moved or trembled.
He treated you with great care and respect. Each piece he uncovered, he treasured. Each he cleaned and polished and studied, all in a grand effort to understand even your most minute workings. The simplest things about you were cause for admiration and astonishment. Ships nowadays, he told you, weren't built with such craftsmanship.
Sometimes it turned into a little game, where you sent him scurrying around the shrine to hurriedly unbury each piece before you'd start wiggling another one. He was so comically enthusiastic, and often ended up flustered and out of breath, clutching more pieces than he could hold and leaning against your side to regain his energy.
As time passed, he began refitting your crest and mast.
He sometimes griped at your builders for, despite making a masterpiece, being in a rather large hurry to do so. Functions of yours were sometimes messy or hastily put together, and he swore he'd make you even better, the way you ought to be;
"But don't worry," he assured you, "I'm not changing what you are, Lor."
And you knew he wouldn't, either. Not with the way he looked at you, cherished you.
Months passed. He set up a forge in the bowels of the volcano; what he could not fix, he built, and replaced, and painted. He hung lanterns around the shrine to light his work; the dancing flames brightened the once-gloomy cavern.
"Some day," he promised, "we'll get you out of here."
In time your oars were each carefully repaired; your hull once broken and devastated gleamed like new; your mast reared up high and proud; he even brought in strong cloth and rope to replace your shredded sails and rigging.
His dedication took him inside your skeleton; quietly he roamed halls that for so long had stood empty. All your structures he revered, aloud praising the skill that must have been employed. As he wound nearer and nearer to the main deck, you nearly squirmed from happiness – but you didn't, you refrained, because you remembered the initial fear of your first pilot.
You didn't want to scare him away.
He crept in slowly, appraising everything with those soft golden eyes of his, shadowed only slightly by his hood.
You read his pulse and counted a constant tally of his breathing rate and he seemed so healthy and safe; you rejoiced over his presence and wished ohso much that he'd place his hands on the control board, where the connection always seemed strongest, where he might finally hear your words-
You waited eagerly as he explored the room, and you struggled your hardest to light up the board that so long had been dark; it flared in a vibrant rainbow of color. Intrigued, the Halcandran stepped closer and at last -!
He settled his hands onto the board.
"Eeuahhh!" He flung back and landed hard on his rear.
But the temporary connection had broken; he didn't hear your words.
He looked so helpless and startled, splayed out on your floor like that – you wanted to nudge him up but refrained in case you frightened him again.
"Lor…?" he said slowly.
Come on I can't talk to you like that get uppp.
Magolor crawled over to the control board as if distrusting his balance. His gloved hands inched up, quivering, and then were placed flat against the board.
A rush of delight, hi, Magolor!
But he wasn't afraid. He was never afraid of you.
The change was seamless, and simple. As Magolor moved his work to the inside, he spoke even more often than before, and now reveled in conversation with you just as you reveled in conversation with him. You weren't a ghost-voice, echoing unheard through your own halls.
Sometimes he forgot to work altogether, and instead spent hours at the multi-colored control board: after that first initial connection, he could speak with you anywhere within your own framework – and sometimes, even outside it – but the link always felt strongest with his hands against that board.
You shared with him the brief adventures of your long life; he joyed and despaired with all your weather, and soothed you with consoling words.
He disclosed his musings on a powerful artifact called the Master Crown. You saw his eyes grow distant and hopeful as he spoke about it, but they darkened as he mentioned the stalwart dragon Landia whom guarded the Crown.
You wanted to do anything to help him get what he wanted.
You needed meaning again, now that you'd been given life.
You wanted to help him; you would help him.
Before him you swore you'd always stay by him.
Word by word, wire by wire, you were built up again, until your oars spread at your side with eager waiting, your sails fluttered proud in a wind they had not yet touched, and Magolor stood ready at your control board.
Bluewhite electric life was crackling through your wires.
You took flight on a red dawn.
A/N: Credit to Ruka, for unknowingly and unintentionally supplying the first line Magolor says to the Lor.
Also credit to the poem Hound of Heaven for supplying bits of another line in this story.