Cabochon was alone. Not truly alone - the unicorn trotted about, happy to be rid of its shackles, long legs trembling as it took its first steps of freedom - but outside of the Dungeon, beyond the all-enmeshing and intricate ecologies and the all-seeing eyes of the Maker. Alone in that he had no role to fill, no place to be.
He was simply existing now, outside, in the bright sunlight that streamed through the branches of the willow grove. Watching muddy little fish dig themselves into the soft earth of the lakeshore and burst out to ambush little insects. Tiny waves swept the surface of the lake, their crests shining gold. He leaned down, letting the cool waters peel the blood from his injured hand in ribbons of yellow. It felt good. Soon he was lifting cupped handfuls of cool, clear water to his face, swallowing eagerly, until there was a cold ache in his stomach.
Freedom was strange. Freedom was drinking water until your stomach hurt and feeling glad you could.
Cabochon sat back, fingers brushing through the tall grass, uncovering countless little insects thriving there. They were silly things. No deadly bites, no poison stings. As he meandered, a ladybug fluttered out and landed on his hand, crawling slowly over the nacre-covered palm. He turned his hand over but the tiny thing clung on, scuttling up between his fingers.
“You are ridiculous.” He informed the bright little insect. “How could you even kill a man.” It took no bother at his words, only fluttering away when he leaned down and blew over it.
Nature was confusing. There were still patterns, yes, to the way the grass grew and how flowers bloomed in symmetry. But they were meaningless patterns, not the sign of a purposeful creation. The way the branches split overhead, winding through the sky like veins, or the way the bark split into rugged plates, these were beautiful little details that had no name signed to them, no creator.
It confused Cabochon, to not exist within a greater mind, interpreting the thoughts of the Maker through his works. To simply be part of the chaos as the wind swept through the grass in rippling waves.
But he was curious. He rose on his eight legs, and began to walk, moving past the edges of the grove. Outside the world was a carpet of lush green spread over rolling hills, dipping down into valleys where the land was divvied up into squares of growing crops and tilled earth, the evidence of human hands at work. Farmhouses bloomed like mushrooms of geometric certainty among the random rise and fall of the hills.
A fire raged in the distance, sending off towers of grey smoke that toppled in the wind.
He paused, and then went back, laying his hand on the unicorn’s neck. It was like him. A creature made of blades.
Together they walked towards the distant fire. Cabochon clutched the flower-bud the gods had given him in one hand, the promise of healing Aurum as precious as his own life.
If he was being truly loyal, truly faithful, to the Dungeon, he wouldn’t have taken the risk of going at all.
Something just pulled him.
As he arrived, he found a little village in chaos. The thatch rooftops were burning, the fire falling into the houses below in great molten drops. Flame slowly collapsed the buildings from within, until they gave way, puffing up huge clouds of ash and flitting sparks as they fell.
People fled, clutching their few possessions or their family. Cabochon was a spectre of death to them. They saw him, striding calm through the chaos, and shrank back, or fell to their knees and prayed.
He simply watched. His role here wasn’t any sort of heroics, to ‘save’ anyone. The thought had never crossed his mind. Cabochon was simply curious.
The gallop of hooves drew his attention. A rider with a waving red cloak was rushing towards him, an axe in hand. The man swung his axe for Cabochon’s throat and the Arachne simply raised an arm, letting the blade shatter and rebound against his nacreous hide, the force knocking the man down from the saddle. His horse galloped on while he was left lying in the dirt. Before he could rise Cabochon loomed over him, a blade-tipped leg lifting to hover above his throat.
“Tell me. What is happening here?” Cabochon asked, as calm as death.
“Revolution!” The man spat out, his face red with fear. Spittle ran down his bushy beard as he gasped and reached for the dagger in his belt.
Cabochon simply let his weight push down. That was all it took.
The little golem’s first hurdle was to heat the metal hot enough to work with. The giant oven the dwarves used was too big for him, even the radiant heat that washed out from the blazing mouth enough to make his clay hide begin to dry and crack.
He would need his own. Luckily, he could shape the earth.
For three days he lifted tiny cobblestones out of the street while the city slept, carrying them methodically up to his secret den in the loft of the forge. With earthshaping he melded them together into a crude forge, and took scraps of coal from the workshop below, building a little foundry. Metal scraps and shavings went into his crucible, a little cup of clay.
Finally, everything was ready.
The pigeons who lived among the rafters cooed and burbled in confusion as he struck sparks from a piece of flint with an old nail salvaged from the forge’s floor.
The fire sparked, and lifted up, raging hotter and hotter in the stone oven. The metal scrap in the cup began to glow like embers, losing its shape and puddling into liquid iron.
That was when the cup cracked open and spilled the metal across the coals, smothering the fire.
The first time that happened.
The second crucible was made of stone, the third of thickened stone. The third time, he worked the stone with his magic, pushing it denser and denser until he could barely lift the resulting cup.
This time, it held.
A bounty of molten metal bubbled and spat in the crucible, and the little golem reached out with his magic, making the stone slowly close from a cup to a sealed sphere. For the smiths who worked below, casting was a crude process, a first step before shaping the metal with hammer and anvil.
The golem could do more. It could mold the cast while the metal was inside, shaping the metal by proxy. Pushing and sculpting instead of beating away with a hammer.
It sat there for hours as the coals cooled into embers, into ash. Slowly compacting the remains of the stone orb smaller and smaller, pressing the metal within into a more definite shape, giving it the form of a ring.
Finally, it lifted out a soot-covered stone ring, crudely shaped. With a will and a spark of magic, the stone cracked and fell away like fragments of eggshell. Within was a double band of iron braided into a twisting helix.
It was a good first effort, but flawed. The detail wasn’t there, the fine work that made the finished product sing. It didn’t speak. It had no voice.
The little golem sat and pondered, looking over what it had made.
Something was missing. There was a rhythm in the golem’s head, a tune sung by dwarves in ancient halls where the lights of their lanterns were fireflies in the dark beneath the earth. A drinking song, a marrying song, a warring song.
This ring was none of those, and it needed to be all of them. Or the song would haunt the little golem until it had been taken out of its head and made real.
It sat with its legs crossed, its shapeless head propped up against one hand. Thinking. Think as hard as it could think.