--The Golem-Maker's End Game--
It took me all day to deactivate all the golems.
I didn't get to deactivate the golems very often. Argelmach preferred to keep them on standby when they weren't in use. It was important to be able to reactivate a golem quickly, he said, in case of an emergency, such as whenever adventurers invaded the factory. Today I was told to deactivate them all, make sure they were definitely deactivated and tether them to the wall just in case.
"They'll go berserk tomorrow if you don't." he explained.
"What, they have to sleep through tomorrow?" I asked, fascinated, "Just like people?"
"What makes you think my golems are any less of people than you, you useless moron?" replied Argelmach, whacking me across the knee with the apprentice-whacking spanner before dashing off back into his little workshop in the next room. When I was next able to stand up, I de-worded the last golem, fastened its chains and then scrambled up onto its head, grabbed a wooden beam and hauled myself up into the rafters, where I curled up and closed my eyes. I was planning to start my Maintenance hibernation early.
I was awoken by an almighty explosion, a lurching sensation then a sudden pain through my entire body when I landed on something hard. I rolled out of the way when I looked up and realised that the wooden beam that I slept on was about to fall on me. While I avoided the beam, I was struck on the head with rocky debris. The roof was caving in.
I ran out of the room and into Argelmach's workshop, screaming his name. He didn't respond. He had switched himself off. Sighing, I grabbed his legs and dragged him through the factory and out into the corridor. Shielding him from the blast, I waited for the rumbling and destruction to end. Fortunately, it seemed to be only the factory that was exploding and not the entire mountain. Adventurers, I thought, this has to be the work of those vicious barbarians. I checked my master for injuries. If his body was at all damaged, I would doubtless be blamed.
Then I happened to glance at his watch, precisely calibrated as usual, keeping time more exact than the brains of the dragons in the Caverns of Time themselves, and I froze.
Maintenance had already begun.
My immediate instinct was to collapse on the spot, curl up into a ball and try to sleep. It wasn't working. It was too late. I could already hear weird, unearthly noises, feel a sickly sensation of unease that made my heart beat too fast for me to sleep. I sat in a foetal position next to Argelmach's prone body and watched as the wall slowly darkened and twisted. Before my eyes, the whole chamber became a series of lines made of light, like scaffolding, and I could see through it into the whole mountain.
Then something started drifting through the wall. It was made of blindingly bright white light. As I watched in horror, it manifested into the shape of a winged being, neither man nor woman, dressed in a diaphanous shroud with cloth wrapped over its face. It was beautiful in the way an iMac was beautiul - cold, inhuman. I recognised it - I had seen pictures of it on church walls. It was a Spirit Guide. The being who guided the souls of the dead through the Spirit Realm. I was dead. We were all dead. Punished for being awake during Maintenance.
It pointed one slender finger at me and whispered a few words in a voice that was calm and neutral but somehow wrong. As though it wasn't quite talking in time to the rhythm of any clock but its own. My face went white. I leaned over and started the incantation to reactivate Argelmach, praying silently to Ragnaros that he wasn't password protected or something. A chill grip slowed my wrist.
That was when I descended into insanity.
First, my own body collapsed into wireframes, then even further into strings of letters and numbers from some alien language that ran across infinite darkness. When I tried to move my hand, the numbers changed. Voices, the voices of the Spirit Guides, chattered, sometimes speeding up or slowing down, even speaking backwards. Somehow I knew what they were talking about - it was my sins. My faults, my every irregularity, every nanosecond I deviated from destiny. And they were correcting it, poking and prodding me back into shape, uncaring that I was alive and awake and could feel every scalpel slice across my soul. I screamed. Over and over again, I begged Argelmach to awaken, to chase the celestial vivisectionists away like he chased off every other intruder.
Then I heard another voice. A voice speaking Orcish with a strange accent.
I blinked and looked down at my hands. I was in my body again, flesh and bone. The Spirit Guide was still there but it had moved away to face the newcomer - a human with thick, messy brown hair, dressed in brown robes and wolf furs. At her side were two beings that I recognised as corrupted elementals, although of what element I couldn't tell. They appeared to be made of stringy red lines of light that slithered like worms moving through treacle, their voices slow and disjointed.
"The Shattrath team needs reinforcements." she said, pointing to the wall. With a final emotionless whisper, the Spirit Guide floated back through the wall. The strange woman turned to look at me.
"Me neither." she said, "Haven't slept during Maintenance since I came to this world."
I gasped. "Are you...?"
"Its quite fun, once you get used to it." she continued, ignoring the question, "You can walk around the entire world and see nobody at all, even in the enemy capital. And the things you see... You can pretend you're a GM. I've always wanted to be a GM."
"How do you not go insane?"
"Oh, I'm already insane." she shrugged.
"You're... Doan Lagbringer, right?" I asked. She nodded. "The Master told me all about you. You can walk through walls like him."
"Walking through the wall is nothing. How would you like to fall through the world?"
"Er..." I stammered, looking down at Argelmach, "Can you help me? There was an explosion. If everything's not back to normal before he wakes up, he'll punish me."
"Oh, he'll have planned that to happen."
"What?" I wondered if she was truly insane. What kind of moron would put bombs in his own factory?
"Haven't you learned yet? Argelmach plans EVERYTHING to happen."
"Do you want to know how I first met your Master?" she said, crouching on the floor, "I was travelling on the Zeppelin. I fell through the floor of the Zeppelin, straight through a mountain and into Ironforge. I thought the guards were going to kill me. Then Argelmach appeared, grabbed me and pulled me through the wall into Old Ironforge."
"I stayed there for a long time, until the next Maintenance when the guards were asleep. He told me something about himself." she continued, "Back when he was just a Dwarf, he suffered from serious insomnia. He didn't sleep through Maintenance. He almost went completely insane."
I considered this. Argelmach definitely wasn't insane. He was far too sane. That was what made him so terrifying.
"In desperation, he prayed to Ragnaros. His parents were priests, so he was taught always to pray to Ragnaros when he was in trouble." said the Lagbringer, "Ragnaros appeared to him and told him where Old Ironforge was, and how to get there. The Maintenance didn't like it there, so it didn't follow him. He stayed there for most of his young life."
"How did he make golems?"
"There's an old abandoned golem foundry in Old Ironforge." Doan explained, before standing up and looking around, a sad expression on her face, "There used to be many GMs here. Its so lonely now. So many GMs... I wish I was a GM..."
"Y..." I stammered, blushing, "You're not alone. The world will wake up tomorrow, and everyone'll still be there."
She smiled again and offered me a hand, "Would you like to walk with me a while? Across the world?"
"My Master... he'll kill me if I..."
"It's okay." she laughed, "By the time you get back, he'll be awake, so will all the golems and everything will be repaired."
"I swear by the World Server." she saluted him.
"Er... Mrs. Lagbringer, ma'am?"
"What are those elementals?"
"Oh, these?" she stretched and yawned, "These are corrupted latency elementals."
"Elementals of pure latency." she said, "They absorb latency from their surroundings, and sometimes they leak, so it goes up and down. I think... at the moment... they're at... oh, yes, yes... Latency 6000."