Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em
by Jaelithe Ingold
Cora likes agate for the eyes of her golem, while I prefer amber. Father says amber makes the creatures more violent. More destructive.
Footsteps rustle through the grass behind our play area. Our mother, of course. Looking to see what we’ve created today.
Cora remains crouched in the mud, sculpting the body of her beast, while I return to scraping the rocks into fists for mine. The harder the rock, the more difficult to shape, but the longer it will last against my sister’s.
Mother smiles. The lines around her pinched mouth curve into fissures. “You’re both getting better.” She kneels beside Cora, whose concentration doesn’t falter. Her hands trace singular paths down the wet body of the golem, all the while whispering the enchantment we’ve been taught to animate non-living matter.
Muddy welts have dried on Cora’s face, arms and dress. She doesn’t care about being dirty. Neither does Mother, who thoughtlessly dabs her fine magician’s hands against the mud golem’s ugliness. It has little more than hollows for eyes and mouth. And nothing else.
Then she glances to mine. Her smile broadens at the sight of my creation, whose face has been carved to resemble a human’s. Thick alabaster forms its torso and head. Obsidian shards form spikes along its arms, legs and back.
As she watches, I continue adding finishing touches to the creature’s body. My fingertips press mud into the gritty crevices between limbs. So many different ways to create the bodies. So many different forms to explore and ingredients to use. It would take a lifetime to find the right combination.
Even Father admits his creations lack perfection, though he is a great commander of a golem army.
“It’s lovely work,” she says. “But is it worth the time and effort in creating such precision? The thing is destined to die.”
She’s correct, but I shrug anyhow. “Some day, it won’t.” Some day, I’ll be strong enough to keep my golems animated beyond a few hours. Just like my father. “And I’d rather have an attractive creature than something that resembles a turd.”
Cora snorts. “My turd golem is going to beat the snot out of yours.” With that, she sets her golem upright. No taller than our knees, it moves sluggishly. Thick trunk-like legs surge through the mud. Water dribbles down its chest, while tawny bands within its agate eyes glint with rage.
Magic stipples my fingertips as I set my golem into position. Its legs piston, grinding against each other as it slogs toward its adversary. Already I can feel the magic drain. With every step, more magic is siphoned from me to feed it.
Mine strikes the first blow. Its fist plows through the chest of Cora’s creature. Both of us wince at the sensation. An echo of what our creations must feel. She says her mud creatures are quicker, more resilient and can take more damage. Perhaps she’s right.
But mine can do more damage.
My golem rips its fist from the other’s chest cavity. Caked mud dribbles into place to fill the gap before mine can strike another blow. Cora’s golem raises both arms and swings at the rock golem’s head.
For a moment, my creature’s head wobbles on a neck I should have reinforced, and I wonder if the battle will be over so soon. Then my creation regains its balance and charges the mud golem.
They both fall, but mine lands on top. In that position, it easily smashes the mud golem’s face over and over again. The muddy face turns into a depression. The burning agate stones spark one last time before they crack in unison. A puff of magic lights up our play area, signaling that Cora’s hold has been severed from the creature.
She lets out an irritated noise.
I can’t suppress a gleeful laugh. It took my sister two weeks to find such perfectly matched stones.
Mother smiles. “Nicely done.” She leans forward and plucks my golem from the mud. Its yellowed eyes are still bright, though even now, my hold weakens. It won’t be alive for much longer. While she examines the structure of my creation, my sister attempts to extract hers from the mud. Difficult since the materials have already begun reintegrating.
“You used amber for the eyes?” At my nod, Mother continues. “It’s a fair choice, but next time, you might try jasper instead. It’ll make the golem stronger. A necessity considering how heavy it is.”
Cora sniffs. “What about mine?”
“Blue quartz will make yours faster and more regenerative.”
The pull of the magic starts to stretch thinner and thinner. I hold onto it for as long as I can, but sheer moments later, my golem’s eyes grow dim. The inner fires wither and the rocky pieces crumble in my mother’s hands.
She lets them fall to the mud and brushes the dust from her hands. Those particular ingredients will be useless until captured by another spell. The amber, though, might still be salvageable, which is why she hands the two shards back to me.
“Tomorrow,” she says, “we’ll go to the apothecary and find you some new stones. You both need to learn greater stamina and control if you ever want to command multiple creatures. That can only be accomplished with better source materials.”
Excitement swells. Buying ingredients is definitely progress. Always before we had to scavenge the quarries and caves surrounding our village. Golem creation is an expensive art. But we all dream of leading the charge against the Horde. To defeat our enemies.
I glance at Cora, who grins in return. She’ll get her blue quartz, of course, thinking her golem will outmaneuver mine.
Not that it matters. Father can only choose one of us as his successor.
And my golems do more damage.
Jaelithe Ingold’s fiction has appeared in Dark Recesses, Necrotic Tissue and Allegory.