Bertrun hissed as the weathered skin of his hand slid across the razor-sharp edge of the open cavity and dug in, causing him to drop his spanner to the dirt floor of his workshop. He knew he was tired, as the dying lamplight continued to broadcast to him. His hand shook from the night’s chill as he reached down to grab the exotic ebony tool, which made him growl. Clenching his fist to steady it, Bertrun returned to the task at hand within the chest cavity of his creation. “So close now…so very close!”
Before him was an amalgamation of unearthly metals, wicked science, and desperate craftsmanship unlike the world had ever seen. And it had all begun with a question; “Do you want her to live? Free of pain and anguish?”
The question had jolted him awake one still summer’s night, and Bertrun was utterly convinced it had been a dream. At least, until the inquisitor leapt up onto his bed and looked into his eyes with unblinking orbs of curiosity. “I can help you with that, if you desire. The knowledge you seek, I possess.”
The grizzled old farmer wondered silently if he’d been screaming in his sleep again, and was about to protest, but then he’d heard the weeping from the next room. A pitiful, broken cry of his baby nightingale. The only thing left in the world that mattered.
“What must I do?” he’d asked, finally feeling the weight of his own exhaustion collapsing inward onto his heart.
“Simple!” the otherworldly creature perked up, and laid out the terms of the contract. Berturn tried to listen in earnest, but his mind had been made up the moment this…this thing, came bearing the gift of knowledge. “Tell me…please, help me save her.”
And so the work had begun. The growing season gave way to the harvest, then the cold bite of winter, but he’d worked through each night and day on only one thing. For the golden skin, he’d traded his oxen that had plowed the land. For the tools of which he’d never seen before, he’d given away all but the bare minimum of his crop so they could survive. For the most critical component, a finely-crafted reliquary, he’d signed away all that remained of his farm and homestead to be delivered and divided upon the coming New Year.
Now there was nothing left but the work. Nothing left but this. And it was almost complete.
The sun was rising on the new day before he’d realized it, but Bertrum paid it no mind, as he finally closed the spinal panel on his creation, clicking its internal mechanisms into motion. “It’s…it’s done…at last!”
Standing before him, seemingly carved out of solid gold and fine gems, was a creature of fantasy never before made manifest. Its cranial horn came up to his breast, while its wings stretched out across the entire open bay of his workshop. Its eyes, once lifeless orbs of ethereal glass surrounded by springs and small panels, now focused up at him. It cocked its head, like an animal first seeing its parent, then looked down at its own galvanized hoofs.
“Do…do you know what you are?” Bertrun asked, amazed and aghast at his own creation now complete.
It looked up at its creator, blinked, and nodded. The metallic quills that made up its mane rattled with its movements and it tucked its wings into a resting posture.
Cautiously, he stretched out his hand and caressed the cheek of his creation, which nuzzled into his scarred palm tenderly. “Then, you know what you are made for?”
It nodded again, more excitedly now, even stomping its front hoofs down in anticipation.
Betrun stood, and immediately wobbled. The lack of food and sleep had finally caught up to him and dared to sweep his feet out from under him. But the machination was quick to act, using its finely-shined side as a support for its master.
“No… not much time. Need to…hurry.” Bertrun sputed out, pushing off his creation and into a lurching walk back into his house.
Together, the pair walked slowly into the small hovel that was Bertrun’s home, through the almost-barren kitchen and family room long bereft of purpose, to the door of the nightingale’s room. He put his ear to the door to make sure she was awake, ad the sound of her strained wheezing greeted him, ripping out his soul as it did every day.
Gathering what was left of his strength, Bertrun opened the door. “Good morning, my little warrior. How are you feeling?”
Looking up at her father with hollowed cheeks and dulled blue eyes, Lorelai tried and failed to lift her head, “Oh, I’m okay…a little hungry,”
Feeling his throat clench to restrain the choking sob, Bertrun leaned in to kiss his daughter’s cold forehead. For that, she smiled up at him for a brief moment, which was all the sunshine he needed in his day. “I’ll see what we have for that. But first, do you know what I’ve found for you?”
“A new pillow?” she asked sweetly, before a coughing fit racked her chest.
“Better, my love. Something you’ve always wanted.” Bertrun asked, and stepped aside before she could respond. Whatever she was was thinking was drowned out by the weight of her astonishment and joy. “You did it! You found a pegasus! I can’t believe it!”
The sheer adulation pulled Lorelai up from her bed, revealing where the bedsores had become even worse than he’d ever seen. Starving fingers reached out to touch the equestrian’s face, which it happily rubbed against. “It’s beautiful, daddy!”
“Only the best for my nightingale.” Bertrun replied, no longer able to hold back his tears. “And it has a gift for you. A cure! You won’t be sick anymore!”
Her eyes doubled in size and her smile threatened to tear at her cracked lips with its raw power. “She does? She can do that?”
“Of course she can. A pegasus like this can grant any wish.” Bertrun nodded, placing his hand on the back of the contraption. “It may hurt a little through, so she won’t do anything unless you’re ready.”
Loreali looked up at her father, then to the mechanzied mare, then back to Bertrun. “I’m ready.”
“That’s my brave little warrior. You’re mother would be so proud of you.” Bertrun pushed the small ruby button between the pegasus’ shoulders, making the automaton’s eyes glow blazing green. Rearing back, its spine telescoped out and up and its chest split open at the crafted seam. Its forward legs also slid open along delicate shutters build in from shoulder to hoof and the creation was opened like a dissected kill.
Carefully, and moving to avoid any sores or delicate bones, Bertrun picked Lorelai up in a strong hug. The last he would ever give her like this.
Slipping atrophied limbs into their awaiting sockets was slow, cautious work, but his nightingale gave no signs of fatigue or pain. Bertrun fastened the exotic feathered straps around her waist and biceps to hold her up before giving her a kiss one last time. “Are you ready?”
If she was nervous, Lorelai’s eyes wouldn’t betray it. Instead, she gave her father the strongest nod she’d managed in a year. “I’m ready.”
Burton didn’t let himself think, for he would not risk hesitation. For her, for the life his last love deserved, he pressed the small switch within the skull of the pegasus to activate it. Inside its sternum and legs, hair-thin needles jutted out to pierce her tender skin and two large braces unfolded from the ribcage to lovingly cradle her withered body. Lorelai only gave small grunts of discomfort as the machine worked, keeping her eyes focused on him.
“I love you, daddy! And thank you!” were the last words to escape her lips as the pegasus closed itself again and began to retract back into its original size. He’d expected any number of horrific sounds to escape the process, but she gave no signs of pain. Just as it had been designed, the pegasus compressed and shrank down to its original size.
For a moment, nothing happened, driving an icy spike into his gut. “Did it work? Oh gods, please show me something! Don’t let this all be for nothing!”
Its shimmering emerald eyes flickered, before cooling into a deep shade of blue. Only then did the contraption stir, looking around the room as if seeing it for the first time.
“Daddy?” she finally spoke. Her voice forever changed, resonating with an artificially lyrical tone only finely crafted songstone would make. To Bertrun, it was the most wonderful sound in the world, and he threw his arms around her. His legs finally gave out and he crumpled to the floor, openly crying against golden steel.
“Did it work? How do you feel, nightingale?” he managed to piece together between joyful sobs.
“I feel…I feel wonderful! Like I’ve never felt before!” A point Loreali punctuated by prancing around in her living vessel. She even spread out her wings for the first time, toppling over a chair burdened with spare blankets. “Oops! I’m sorry!”
“Don’t be, my dear. It worked! It…finally worked…” Bertrun gleefully replied, feeling years of sorrow and anguish evaporate from his body and revealing just how tired he was.
Only now, by the terms of the contract, did the marvelous benefactor re-appear. Its bargain had been met, as was agreed to that fateful night. “Well done, Bertrun! It’s beautiful.”
He nodded, dazed and drained from so many trials and the lack of sustenance. Loreali was too busy trying out all her new joints and movements to notice in such a moment of barter.
“Out contract is complete.” the creature nodded, leaping down from the now-vacant bed to stand weightlessly on his chest. “It’s time to leave.”
And when the spectral curiosity departed, so to did the last shred of life Bertrun had held onto beyond reason or hope. Only when her father’s chest gave its last peaceful sigh of release did Loreali realize what had happened.
The pegasus collapsed onto the chest of her creator and wept aloud. A child, now immortal, but forever bereft of family.
My entry for this week’s Mid-Week Prompt Challenge, which far exceeds the word count limit. But I don’t care, as this piece joust wouldn’t stop itself. Was this a bargain, or a deal with a devil? That I leave to you.
I hope you all enjoy.