Writings: Metal Malice (Accidental Hero)

Note: This was previously published on my Patreon.

I couldn't leave you on a cliffhanger, so here's another Harken story. We finally get to see Teagan, and I hope you love her as much as I do. She has my autism and it's so amazing to be able to write an autistic character on purpose (instead of before when I was apparently writing autistic characters without realizing, solely through the accident of basing them on myself, ha).

Chapter 1, Accidental Hero
Chapter 2, Sister's Sword

Story so far: Harken has come home after burgling an ancient shrine and receiving a sword and a mysterious blessing. While seeking his sister in the forest near their house, he is ambushed by one of the deadly metal wardens who stalk the land indiscriminately killing people. 


Metal Malice

Eleven, Harker thought as the ruby targeting dot juddered over his chest in preparation to fire. He ducked around a tree, buying a few short moments as he dodged out of the warden's immediate line of sight. The machine whirred to itself as it contemplated the loss of its target, and the targeting laser switched off.

Breaking the machine's visual contact with him reset the timer, and Harken was grateful yet again that the deadly mechanical wardens never choose to simply blast through trees; they certainly had the raw power to do so. Their collective unwillingness to ravage the countryside as they slaughtered people was one of the few weaknesses which could be employed to beat them.

Had this been a planned engagement with the full town guard out here with Harken and Teagan, a designated target would distract the warden while others used the terrain as cover to sneak up and attack. But, no, this was brutal bad luck and the town guard was not here, which meant Harken was in hot water. He could hear the clicks and thunks as the cylindrical warden lumbered on its spidery legs after its lost prey; the creatures were clever enough to move to the side as well as forward, reestablishing visual contact quickly. Escape was paramount, but the trees here were too sparse to give him cover if he ran. That left up as the only way out.

Grateful that spring was far enough along that the trees were no longer barren, Harken scrambled up the trunk as quickly as he could, grabbing at lower branches to haul him higher. He heard the stuttering beep of the targeting laser again, close and high in his ears. Eleven. His hand slipped its hold on a branch and he felt a slick wetness of blood in his palm as his skin tore on rough bark. Ten. Gritting his teeth he looped an arm over the branch and hauled until he thought his shoulder would pop from the strain. Nine. Just a little farther to the top and he could disappear into the leaves and hide. Eight. Seven. Six.

She must have realized he wasn't going to make it about the same time Harken did. He'd hoped she would hide herself--the warden hadn't seen her, he was certain--but now he heard her crashing around the clearing behind him, making a ruckus to draw the mechanical creature's attention. "Hey! Yah! Over here!"

Five. Four. A deafening clang rang through the coppice and he knew she'd hit the warden with her sword. The beeping laser paused and Harken's heart sank. Convincing a warden to switch targets mid-attack was exceedingly difficult, but a direct assault on the cylindrical body would do the trick. He heard the whirr as the creature turned in place, and then the targeting beep began anew. Twisting his head to watch over his shoulder, he saw the ruby beam dancing over Teagan's back as she ran for the trees. Eleven.

She wasn't going to reach the tree line in time. Even if she did, the slender trunks would not provide cover from the seeking laser. She'd be killed as he watched, then the monster would return to finish him, rendering her sacrifice useless. Panic stabbed him, entwining with the pain in his hand and the ache in his arm where he hung from the branch. His only idea was a fool's notion, but he could think of nothing better: he let go.

He landed with a dull whump on the metal skirting surrounding the cylinder and from which the spidery legs sprouted. Harken windmilled his arms, struggling to catch his balance as the machine rocked under his unexpected weight. On the other side of the metal cylinder he saw Teagan twist to look over her shoulder at the noise as she ran, her eyes widening with alarm when she saw him, but then he had no time for anything but the whirr of the warden as the targeting laser died and the cylinder rotated in place.

A ruby eye slid past his hands where he griped the machine for balance, and came to stop a hand-width from his chest. Red light pooled at the eye, preparing to fire. Harken knew there would be no pause to aim, no eleven-count reprieve of the targeting laser, not at this close range. Heat and light would slam into him and he'd be sent flying into the air with a burned hole in his center and charred ragged edges around the wound.

There was one thing left he could try, though even if he were successful he'd probably incinerate his hands. He yanked the sword he'd brought for Teagan from his belt, pulled back as far as he trusted his balance, and centered the tip at the ruby eye. If he was lucky, he would crack the glass of the eye and the gathering power would disrupt. If he were unlucky, his hands would be the first parts of him seared off as the machine fired. He shoved forward, gritting his teeth and bracing for pain.

Instead of cracking the glass, his sword drove through the ruby eye. Sparks spat at him and Harken found himself rearing back as his hands came close enough to feel heat from the electric tantrum. "What the-- whoa!" The cylindrical body twisted from side to side, swinging the protruding sword wildly and throwing Harken off the metal skirting. He landed on the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of him and the pain was intense enough to make him wonder if he'd bruised a rib. Around him on both sides, mechanical legs thrashed as the wounded creature tried to cope with-- what? what had he done? Blinded it? Worse?

"Harken! Out of the way!"

On the other side of the warden he could see Teagan's feet set as she swung her sword and connected with a jarring clang against one of the spidery legs. This time the hit was clean and good, tearing off the flexible limb with the force of her blow. The warden wobbled at the sudden loss of support and Teagan squared her shoulders to haul off another blow. Clenching his eyes against the pain, Harken rolled as best he could out of the way of the tangle of limbs and metal; as wounded as the creature was, it would not stay up much longer.

"Mangy bucket of bolts! Hurt my brother, will you? Now who looks like a fool, huh?" Harken had to bite back a smile at the taunts as he dragged himself away from the melee. Teagan could be shy around people and even animals, but she held nothing back when it came to her fury for the deadly wardens. The clangs and clashes behind him were as loud as a spring thunderstorm, peppered with fierce curses.

When the creature lay unmoving save for tiny sparks still flicking off in places, Harken pulled himself to a sitting position against a nearby tree and stared at Teagan while she fussed over her sword looking for dings and scratches. "Did we really just kill a warden? By ourselves? Has anyone ever done that?"

"'Course they have!" Teagan gave him a scowl without an ounce of heat behind it. "You know the stories as well as I do! The eight champions and their hero, Harken. Any of 'em could take out a single piddly warden."

He laughed, or rather wheezed when the effort pained him. "Yeah. I'm not talking about the songs sung by bards in the village inn, Teagan. I'm talking about--" He almost said real people, ones that actually existed, but amended the words quickly out of love, knowing Teagan adored the old tales. "--normal people. Like us."

"Call me 'normal' again and I'll smack you," she began, but she stopped when she finished fussing with her sword and looked up to see him. "Harken? Are you hurt? I told you to get out of the way; I thought you did!" Her face drawn with worry, she rushed to kneel beside him and pat his body looking for wounds.

"I'm fine-- ouch! Stop, stop," he begged, tears in his eyes even as he smiled. "I bruised a rib when I fell, I think. It hurts like a demon, but I'll live. Thanks to you."

Her eyes widened but she stopped pawing at him. "Thanks to me? Thanks to you, more like. What on earth did you do? I've never seen anyone put a sword through a warden's eye. Even arrows have to be dead-on and the right weight! What happened up there?"

Harken hesitated, suddenly unsure. What had happened? Was all that from the blessing the dead monk had given him? He'd felt stronger, yes, but not that much stronger! His gaze swept the broken heap of metal and wiring, falling on the protruding hilt of the sword embedded in the creature's mechanical eye. He hadn't thought the sword anything special, but what if he were wrong?

"Tea, I've done it." His voice shook with excitement, an emotion he rarely allowed himself to engage in. "I've been inside one of the shrines."


He told her everything: how the tunnel led to the inside of the shrine, how more tunnels connected there which meant more entry points, how the tunnel system dropped him directly into the inner sanctum and the monk's final resting place. He told her, as she felt him over for wounds, about the treasure chest and the sword inside, the warden which did not challenge him, and the mummified corpse of the monk sitting in a final pose of meditation. And he told her, as she sat back heavily and stared at him with wide eyes, how the monk spoke a blessing in his head, granted his limbs strength, and then disintegrated in the stale tomb air.

When he was finished, Teagan puffed her cheeks and blew a low whistle. "Okay. Let's set some things aside for a bit. Come back to the rubles first. How many?"

"Two hundred," he reported, feeling a little deflated after his recitation. "Maybe barely enough to cover our debt with Garvan, but not so much we won't immediately go back into debt again the next day." He gestured at the sword where it lay embedded in the wreckage. "I was going to sell the sword, too. Now we have the warden to scavenge, and that's not nothing. Maybe another two hund--"

"You're not selling my sword!" Teagan bounced up, rocking on the balls of her feet, and stomped over to the ruined warden to plant her feet and pull the sword free. With a wrenching groan, it came loose from the wreck and she examined it with bright eyes. "This is mine now. I like it."

Harken blinked at the announcement. "You already have one just like it! Better, really, since you've been sharpening it regularly. This one has been blunt for decades!"

"Dun care." Teagan stuck her tongue out at him. "Mine."

"Fine. I'll sell your old one," Harken said, rubbing at his eyes and feeling tired.

"Still mine," she insisted, laying both blades beside her berry basket. "Quit trying to sell my stuff!"

"Teagan!" He didn't mean to shout and ducked when a startled bird erupted from the tree where he was leaning--then winced when the movement sent shooting pain through his center. "Teagan. We need money. Lorccán came to the house while you were away! Why do you think I'm out here looking for you?"

Her eyes dropped to the ground as quickly as if he'd struck her. "Oh. Oh no."

Harken bit his lip; he wanted to tip her chin up to meet his eyes, but he knew better than to do so. When Teagan couldn't make eye contact, trying to force her only made things worse. "Tea... has he been after you?"

She shook her head. "No. A bit. It doesn't matter! If he gets too pushy, I can just give him what he wants. I don't care." She studied her fingernails rather than look up at him, digging out grit.

"Tea, no."

"I've had sex for worse reasons than money, Harken," she insisted with a tense shrug. "It's not as though the world will end!"

Harken took a deep breath. "If it were as simple as an honest trade for money, I'd not object. Not if that were what you wanted--though I don't believe it is. But the way he's pushing, like he owns us? Tea, if you do this he'll take what he wants and afterwards say we owe him the same as before. And it won't be once or twice, and not on your schedule or wishes. It'll be whenever he wants, like an itch he gets scratched."

Teagan sighed and let her hands rest in her lap, staring at the ground. "So what should we do? You have extra rubles in your sleeve you haven't told me about?"

"I wish I did." Quiet passed between them, but more peaceable than before; they were no longer at odds, he knew. "Look, tomorrow I'll go and talk with Garvan. I'll take these warden parts to him. He ought to give a fair trade for those. You can talk with the town guard and see if they're willing to take up a collection. We did kill the thing after all; the least they can do is give you some bread and bacon. Milk for your berries."

"I only have one basket of berries," she warned. "The bushes aren't too fat yet."

"Still. A little milk," Harken pressed with a smile. "You bargain well. And I'll go over the books with Garvan."

"They aren't good. Lorccán went over them with me twice while you were gone."

He tried not to grind his teeth at the thought. "Well, Garvan holds our debt, not Lorccán. The numbers can't be that bad. I'll go over them with him and we'll see what there is to see."

Her eyes found him then, seeking with just a hint of worry. "What comes after that? Do you have another lead?"

"There's still the shrine here," he reminded her, smiling more widely than he felt. "Multiple tunnels, multiple entrances, remember? I'll find a way in and there's got to be more rubles for the taking. We might get rich out of this after all, little sister!"

"Big sister," she corrected with a snort. Her voice turning curious, she tilted her head. "Ugh, I don't like the thought of you crawling around in that awful, narrow space. Will you get another blessing from the goddess if there's a monk inside ours? Is there a monk in our shrine, do you think?"

Harken hesitated again, suddenly unsure. He'd assumed there would be a monk and a blessing in every shrine, but leave it to Teagan to yank the foundation out from under him with a single honest question. What if there wasn't a monk in the shrine? Would that mean no blessing waited for him? Shouldn't that be what he wanted: a chance to return to a normal life, scavenging for treasure without a thought to monks and heroes and missions? Not that he'd ever been normal. If he could be normal, would he want to be?

"There's got to be, right?" he heard himself answer his sister, the cheery voice in his ears almost convincing. "Can't have a shrine without monks. Now c'mon, help me up. I need to limp back to the house for my scavenger pack while you guard the warden. Can't have wildlife running off with the parts."


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