-----------The Golem-Maker's Apprentice-----------
Dwarves shouldn't be able to move that fast.
The first time I became aware of his presence today - I assumed it was daytime, although it was impossible to tell, in the stygian blackness of the bowels of the earth where our workshop is located - was when he snuck up behind me and belted me across the elbow with a spanner.
"Clean that hook up there, would you? The empty one."
I followed his finger up to where he was pointing. It was about forty feet up. An enormous hook, like a meat hook, was suspended from the ceiling. It needed to be that high up because it was for storing golem parts and golems are very large.
"Give it a polish when you're done." he added, before wandering off back to his office, muttering something rather nasty about the last people to use the place and what a mess they had left it in.
I looked around for a ladder. The Gnomes had pinched them all and were already busy tying them together to make some kind of rudimentary scaffolding around the inert golem they were attempting to repair, clean and recharge.
"Hey, can I borrow one of those?"
A pair of small beady eyes looked around at me.
"No! Piss off! You're taller than me, climb up there on your own!" he snapped in his high-pitched voice.
I sighed and peered up at the hook that swung ponderously back and forth above me. I looked back at the giant sentinel who slept, dreaming whatever ancient and grand dreams a guardian of living stone dreamt. There was a screech and a splat as a Gnome fell off it. His bucket of water clanked to the floor.
"Dora?" I whispered.
Unmistakeably, a flash of purple glinted in the low light, two arcane circles in midair. The golem wasn't completely turned off. They very rarely were. A golem on standby didn't use up that much power and you never knew when you might need to reactivate one in a hurry.
"Oh, Dora!" I called again. The eyes flashed once more. I silently thanked whichever spirits were stupid enough to look down on a man like me that my master liked giving his golems true names that were short and easy to remember, so that he could yell them quickly in the middle of battle.
"Over here, Dora, over here!" I waved.
With the low-pitched whine of an arcane core starting up again, the revivified golem lumbered up to me and stood directly in front of me, wrenching itself free of the spindly scaffolding and crushing a Gnome beneath its feet.
"That's it. Just stand there." I said. Then I grabbed one of its hands and pulled myself onto it.
"Now raise your hand." I asked it. I felt a slight lurch as the hand rose into the air. When I saw the end of the hook dangling precariously close to my head, I ordered it to be silent again. Then I took out my polishing cloth and went to work on the hook.
"WE'RE UNDER ATTACK!!!!!!!"
Before I realised what was happening, he rocketed out of his office again, his two personal guard golems stomping along after him, and snapped his fingers. All the golems in the room hummed to life and ran towards him. He began waving his arms around like an orchestra conductor, directing the golems into a military formation. The Gnomes began running around like headless chickens, throwing wrenches, firing guns and casting magic at the first thing they saw, including vital machinery and each other. I opened my mouth to give Dora her instructions, but was stopped abruptly when the huge thing grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and hung me on the end of the hook.
"OW, YOU BASTARD! THAT HURT! PUT ME DOWN!" I screamed. The old dwarf caught sight of me and burst into laughter.
"Oh, so THAT's how my part hooks got so greasy!" he said, laughing and clapping his hands, "I suspected as much! Okay, back to work, everyone! That was just a drill! I'll get that bug fixed, see if I don't..."
With that parting comment, he wandered back into his office, humming what sounded like 'Purification of Darkness' from Grandia 2 under his breath.
"Hey, aren't you going to let me down? Dora! Come back here! DORAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"
But the golem was now all the way over the other side of the room, on standby again. It would take a far stronger empathic link than I had to convince it to walk all the way back to help me down. Was that what he was trying to do - to see if I could improve my empathic link?
There had to be a reason. There was always a reason with Argelmach. His mind was like clockwork. No, he was more like the central cog in an enormous clockwork machine that began moving at him and rotated outwards with every meticulously planned move that he made expanding to the whole mountain, to the whole continent, to the whole damn world for all I know.
Golem Lord Argelmach looked the same when I first met him as he does now - like a cross between Father Christmas, a zombie and a concentration camp commandante. Cold blue skin, wild, unkempt white hair and those crazy eyes that never stopped staring at you as though he hadn't slept for three weeks. He wasn't wearing his heavily armoured overalls - you need protection when you're working with twenty foot tall stone behemoths - or carrying the Apprentice-Whacking Spanner that I soon grew to fear. He was actually in a rather neatly pressed black suit because he had been to the opera.
I had only just graduated then. I was the sort of graduate who would never get a job. My grade wasn't good enough for any postgraduate research funders to be interested in me, I had no trade, no divine calling, I avoided war recruiters like the plague and I was certainly no breed of arcanist. As for nature, even the water elementals in the academy fountain tried to drown me. I was destined to mediocrity in an age of epic legends and mighty heroes.
So why was this Dwarf - this decidedly odd-looking Dwarf who had not only sneaked past the guards but had casually bought a ticket for the matinee of the Song of Sylvanas - asking me to be his apprentice?
I didn't understand at the time what that meant. Argelmach doesn't have apprentices. He has slaves. He has spare parts. He has other people around to distract the attackers in battle while he randomly runs around the room hiding behind golems and throwing spanners at people. Only if he sees someone with real talent - someone who would, with training, understand golems as instinctively as he does - would he even consider treating them like people, never mind people worth training. What's more, he never ever made a mistake. He had an eye for talent in others.
So when he approached me, introduced himself as Mr. Abdiel Argelmach (but I might know him better as Golem Lord Argelmach) and handed me his business card, I had no idea how to react. Especially when he warned me to be aware of the consequences before he put my life and soul into his hands.
"You see, I will take your soul." he said, looking perfectly serious and straightforward, "And you will be led down into Blackrock Depths. And from that moment on, your life is over. There will no longer be anything except my ambitions for you. If and when I say so, you will no longer be human."
"S... sir, I'm not a Human, sir."
"That's the spirit!" he smiled, bashed me on the knee with a spanner and darted away. calling over his shoulder, "Think on it! If you accept my offer, come to Blackrock Depths! I'll be waiting for you!"
Like I said, dwarves shouldn't be able to move that fast.
On retrospect, I don't know what made me do such a stupid thing. I read books. I knew who he was. I was just fascinated. And a little stuck for other ideas. The Arathi Basin recruiters were giving me hungry glances (literally) and my mother had thrown me out of the house for not having a job again. She's a mage who forcibly teleports deportees for a living, so she can throw really far. I was already halfway to the Burning Steppes when I made my mind up. Unfortunately, the ocean is halfway inbetween my house and the Burning Steppes.
I hired some adventurers to help me get into Blackrock Depths. That was a really bad idea. Adventurers charge a fortune. What's more, as soon as I spotted Argelmach sitting on one of the huge chains, casually watching me, the adventurers all ran to attack him. I threatened to tell my mother if they didn't go away, so they did.
"So, you accept my offer, then?" he said, rubbing his hands together as though he had accomplished some great work. "You're sure you know what you're letting yourself in for?"
I nodded and bowed respectfully.
"Excellent!" he said, grabbing me roughly by one arm and leading me across the chain and down a dark corridor.
"It's over for you, m'boy." he said, laughing. Then, in a businesslike voice of a master craftsman, he added "Wait in the waiting room." I swear he can change his voice in half a second without effort.
"What waiting room?" I looked around.
"That waiting room." he pointed to it with his spanner.
"I d... don't think that's a waiting room, sir."
"If I say its a waiting room, its a waiting room. Shut up." he said, pushing me into it. I shrugged and waited there, watching him recede into the distance and wondering when he was going to come back. My last thought before I heard the now familiar whistling sound of a spanner about to connect with the back of my head and lost consciousness was: oh yeah, this place has two entrances.
When I woke up, the bastard had nailed the lid shut.
I had plenty of time to learn to control the screaming claustrophobic insanity that crept into every cell in my body as I lay there in the absolute darkness, barely space to breathe, never mind move. The only reason I knew I was alive was the classical music he played in the background and whistled to while he did his accounts or made some repair on one of his golems that he wouldn't trust to his army of technicians. If I didn't know him better, I'd say he forgot that I existed during that long month. He even used the stone casket I was sealed inside as a desk once, although he didn't think much of it, as it had an irregular surface and made his handwriting go wobbly.
One thing, and one thing only had saved me from insanity during my ordeal. The voice I heard on my seventh day. On my seventh day: that was a record, apparently. Of all the apprentices who survived the initiation rite, only three had ever been awakened in less than two weeks.
The voice said "Hello. My name is Dora. Would you stop being so noisy? I am trying to put myself on standby."
By the thirtieth day, I had managed to convince it to lift the sodding lid.