Artwork by Kevin Hong.
Cecilia pushed open the massive, brass doors. The sun had just risen, it's brilliant pink and golden rays
permeated the gears that made up the East wall of the bedroom. A metallic odor filled the frigid air.
Logan, one of Vlaro's butlers, already stood by a large lever, ready to wake the colossal automaton upon her command.
"It's time," she said.
Logan took a wide stance, put both of his hands on the lever, and pulled with all of his might. There was a loud slam beneath the lever. Within a second, the entire palace had come to life. Clanging, whirring, and rattling filled the previously inert atmosphere. At the end of the enormous bedroom, two huge doors opened outward from the floor. A platform rose from beneath. On it was the earl, not yet activated and wearing a mask depicting a woman sleeping peacefully. One system of pulleys and hooks grabbed the body and brought it upright, while another attached wings to the lord's back. Vlaro's head hung down. A metal beam with convoluted etchings jutted out from the wall behind him and into the back of his head. Suddenly, the palace was silent. Then there was a nearly ear-shattering metal-on-metal sound, like ten thousand keys simultaneously unlocking ten thousand locks.
The beam, together with the system of hooks retracted as Vlaro looked up and stepped forward. The awakening was complete. The earl reached out with one of his long, slender arms and picked a new mask off of a nearby pillar while using another arm to take off his current mask. For the split second that he was replacing his mask, Cecilia and Logan caught a glimpse of the mind-boggling intricacies that were the inside of the automaton's head; it was a subtle privilege, but if a commoner were to enjoy it they would be put to death.
"Good morning, my loyal assistants," whirred the Earl. He now wore the face of a man with a faint smile. "What news have you?"
Cecilia, the Earl's messenger, spoke up, "An unidentified beast has been mauling the livestock of farmers in the South. They come in packs and the farmers are unable to defend against them. The farmers humbly beg for your assistance."
"Those farmers have been hard workers for many years, send a force of three captains with fifty foot-soldiers each. Tell them to keep watch through the entire night and kill these new beasts upon sight. What else has happened."
"An epidemic has struck a town to the North, Tekeksburg. The people are pleading for you to send-"
"And do they really expect an ounce of pity after the uprising last year? I will not come to their aid this time," pronounced the Earl, "What else?"
"Well. . ." Cecilia gulped.
"What is it?" Inquired the Earl.
"You have been summoned to appear before the Great Ones."
It had been over two hundred years since an Earl of Glashta had been summoned. It was not for any human to know the will of the Great Ones, but Cecilia knew that the last Earl to be summoned hadn't returned. Her ancestors were governed by the Earl Mikhan. A week after he left to appear before the Great Ones, Vlaro appeared in his throne room overnight. He immediately ordered extensive augmentations to the palace and removed everything that was sentimental to Mikhan. There had been a military coup against him because several generals didn't think that Vlaro was their rightful leader. It turns out that a single automaton is far mightier than a human army, especially when the automaton controls a mechanized fortress.
Cecilia couldn't get over the idea of serving a new Earl. Perhaps it wouldn't even be the case, perhaps Vlaro would return in a few days with news, resources, or allies. Either way, she was sure that Vlaro understood the dynamic between humans, automata, and Great Ones.
"He must know what this summoning is about, even if he isn't going to tell me," she thought.
In truth, Vlaro had no idea what was going on. All he knew was that, the second Cecilia had given him this news, he could see the direction in which he must fly, and he understood that not acknowledging the summoning would mean his death.
"Very well," he proclaimed, "I will set out at once. Be sure to notify the military of its duties in the South, and send a message to the North that their suffering must be endured as consequence for their rebellion. Only your fellow executives may know of my absence until I return."
"Yes, sir," replied Logan and Cecilia in unison.
Vlaro replaced his face with that of a stern, bearded man. Then, as Cecilia was walking out, he spread his enormous, ceramic wings, and took off, flying between the large gears in the East wall.
. . .
After flying in the direction provided to him by his instincts for about seven hours, Vlaro heard a mountain range. He could feel the monumental cliffs and valleys rolling beneath him. It was a satisfying sensation that he had not come across in a long time, soaring above such jagged terrain. Something was familiar about it. He had very faint memories of the landscape, but he couldn't remember where he had been coming from or for what purpose he was traveling.
After another hour, he realized that he must not be as high as he thought, for there was something enormous and flat several hundred meters before him that stretched far in each direction and towered above him.
"Is this where the Great Ones reside? It must be."
He listened for any aberrations on the surface that might indicate an entrance. As he drew closer, he heard a rectangular region on the surface that didn't have any substance behind it. Thinking that it must be a door, he flew towards it. Indeed, as he drew closer, it opened and he flew inside. He landed. He was in a wide hallway with flat, stone walls. The only way to go was forward.
After about twenty meters he came to the end, which was a wall made of wood. It was thick, but he could hear that it had a room on the other side. The only thing he could think to do was knock. After a second, the massive wooden slab slid into the floor. What he could hear on the other side astounded and infuriated him.
Humans were walking around, talking casually, and carrying automata body parts. Several of his brethren lay strewn about, deactivated, as the humans tinkered with them.
"How dare you!" He screamed.
This caused a few of the nearby humans to look his way.
"Ah, new arrival," said one of them apathetically.
One of the humans approached him. Vlaro was livid, he didn't care to think, he prepared to pierce the human's squishy, pathetic body with all four of his arms. But before he could, the human pushed a button on a panel next to him and Vlaro felt an incredible force that pinned him to the floor. He looked around to see what bound him, but found nothing.
"What have you done to the Great Ones!?" yelled Vlaro.
The human chuckled, "We are the Great Ones."
"Blasphemy!" Vlaro shouted back, "Identify yourself!"
The human sighed with exasperation.
"Why are they always so damn proud? Don't they realize they're just machines?" Asked a female voice from somewhere in the room.
"Because we engineered them to feel like royalty," laughed someone else.
Vlaro realized what was going on. He felt something entirely new; he was mortified.
"What are you going to do to me?" He asked apprehensively.
"Disassemble you, use the parts that aren't totally broken to make a new automaton, then send him off to some domain somewhere for him to rule."
Vlaro was in shock. He felt something else he hadn't felt before. His consciousness was fading. It was unlike being safely deactivated beneath the palace at night, his thoughts were unraveling.
"Wait, please, I'm scare-"
And with that the old automaton was forcefully deactivated as a few other workers came over to help move the colossal machine to a place where it could be disassembled.