— Tear-stained piece of paper left at the base of a tree, date unknown
The girl giggled, sat astride the large ram, bouncing gently as it cantered forward into the treeline, bleating happily. The summer’s afternoon sun beat down, casting Márr’s green lands in warmth and light, beams of golden radiance dappling the leaves of the tall trees. Birdsong filtered gently through the air, small rodents snuffled gently in the undergrowth, and civilisation trundled onwards in the distance.
An afternoon of adventure awaited girl and ram, grubbing around in the forest floor and seeing what treasures could be unearthed, and they proceeded onwards into the depths of the woods. Birds flapped away gently as they passed, bushes rustled as the ram trotted past, and gradually, the sounds of civilisation passed further into the distance and out of earshot. The darkness grew steadily as the trees became thicker, but the girl wasn’t concerned. There was nothing to be afraid of in Márr.
The pair entered into a clearing and came to a stop. Muir swung one leg over and dismounted, scratching her companion behind the ear before tottering off towards a nearby tree, her wooden leg slightly too short after her recent growth spurt. The ram grazed quietly as she knelt down and poked through the mud at the tree’s base. Two earthworms and a woodlouse were her prize, and she watched the trio intently in her mud-caked green hand, stifling giggles as their movement tickled her skin.
The ram’s ears pricked up, and it raised its attention from the grass, regarding the far end of the clearing. It trotted over to the girl and nuzzled her.
Muir deposited the insects gently, watched as the earthworms burrowed down into the ground, and stood and stroked the ram again. She could see it was agitated, eyes fixed intently on the far end of the clearing, and she suddenly felt uneasy. Silence had fallen over the forest, so slow and gradual that she hadn’t noticed, but now it was deafening. The only sound was the leaves ruslting overhead, the ram pawing the dirt, and now an ever-so-slight ticking from the darkness beyond the clearing.
The hairs on the back of her neck stood up.
The pair stood transfixed, searching in the darkness to find the source of the ticking, rhythmic and growing louder and louder. Slowly, a shape began to materialise, tall and humanoid, but moving erratically. The arms were just slightly too long, and Muir was scared.
The ticking grew louder, and entering into the clearing with a steady march, there came a metal man. Golden in construction, its arms were bladed, one shorter than the other, and a sundial sat where its face ought to be. Two pairs of mechanical wings folded out slowly from its back as it fixed Muir with its gaze, or what passed for it.
Muir gripped the ram by one horn, tugging on it as she backed away from the advancing construct, but it stood firm, bleating a warning to the golden machine.
It wasn’t heeded. The machine stalked forward steadily, raising one bladed arm as it advanced on the girl and her companion. Muir pleaded, crying as she tugged on the ram’s horn. She knew she wouldn’t be able to run fast enough without him.
The construct stood in the centre of the clearing now, the ticking growing louder and louder. The ram turned, fixed the girl with its soft brown eyes, then charged forward, knocking the machine to the ground. Muir stood in shock for a moment, then turned and
hobbled away from the clearing as fast as she could, sobbing.
She looked back over her shoulder as she went, catching brief glimpses of the struggle before the trees swallowed it up. Before long, she could only hear the sound – the incessant ticking, the sound of horn on metal, the bleats of anger and distress. Stumbling forward, she tripped and fell at the base of a great tree, then crawled into the exposed rootball, panting. She drew her knees up to her chin, green streaks forming on her cheeks as her tears mingled with her dye.
The bleats echoed around the forest, then stopped.
The chronomaton’s blade impacted with the woman, sending a ripple through time and fate, and two gods opened their eyes. From one’s spilled golden light, while the other’s three regarded the threads of fate itself.
“So it begins,” said both in unison.