In the lonely winter night he worked, shaping soft clay into a countenance, a part greater than its whole, a point of order in the senselessness of winter’s endless expanse. No detail was too small; his masterpiece must be perfect.
The artist obsessed over the details, working each inch individually to smooth out any imperfection. Minute by minute, night by night, his hands teased the clay, drawing a form from the shapeless material. As the artist spun his miracles, the form became humanoid. Time marched on, and the details emerged, and soon, the pale clay formed the clear figure of a man.
The artist was not satisfied yet. He felt the locket around his neck, a gift from his love, and he knew he could still reach perfection. He examined the statue as a surgeon would his patient, tearing apart the clay for any sign of a flaw. He worked the visage beneath a lens, chiseling away the ugliness, to create a true gift for the gods.
Now the artist was pleased. He opened the locket and admired the portrait within. His only muse, the love of his life… I did it for you, my love, he thought. I have mastered my art. With an unburdened heart, the artist blessed his clay, and named the masterpiece Erato. In minute, perfect calligraphy, he carved the statue’s name into the still-soft clay. Beneath the name, the artist imbued the figure with a cosmic purpose, marked in the clay in the language of the gods.
“Erato,” the artist murmured. “I call you to life.”
The blessing of gods flowed through the statue. The clay man quivered, and its pale eyes opened. The statue looked up at its creator.
“Stand, Erato,” the artist commanded. His masterpiece complied. “Walk to me, and take a seat.” The figure did as it was told, sitting down at the artist’s desk.
“Now,” continued the artist. “Nod your head if you can understand me.”
The statue gazed forward, unblinking, into oblivion. The artist sighed, and opened his journal to a fresh page.
Life cannot be condensed to a series of glyphs in clay. There is something I am missing, something which cannot be falsified by any magical means.
The words poured from his quill in a thunderous finale. If they were true, then the sum of his career had led to nothing, a slow fade into mediocrity among the harsh landscape of the north.
“That can’t possibly be true,” spoke a voice over his shoulder. “You’re far too talented.”
“Good evening, Galateo,” the artist greeted the newcomer.
“It sure is.” Galateo read over the journal page once more, then examined the clay man. “You did a good job on this one.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Pygmalion.” The artist stood and faced his lover. “You did good,” Galateo repeated.
Galateo sized up the artist. “I love the suit,” he said. “Brown was always your color.”
“You mock me.”
“No, I mean it. And the orange tie was a bold choice. But you need to clean it. Dressing so formally while you work has done a number on you.”
Pygmalion straightened his tie. “I’ll clean up when my work is done,” he spoke. “Now come on, I need to try something.”
Pygmalion led his partner down the stairs, pausing briefly at the front door. Hoping Galateo wouldn’t notice, he quickly peeked out the window. The night’s gentle winds blew frost across the silent plain, the steady snow undisturbed by footprints. The mansion did not receive many visitors.
The duo passed through the dining room, the brass chandelier lighting itself as they entered. A dozen wooden servants lined the walls, prepared to set the table if the artist gave his command. But nobody would be dining tonight.
The duo hurried through the room and arrived in the gallery. The braziers lit on Pygmalion’s arrival, revealing a score of alcoves along both sides of the long room. In each alcove, a statue stood at attention, motionless. As the two walked down the room, the statues turned their heads to view Pygmalion as he passed.
Forty statues in a dozen shapes and styles, each designed in the vague form of a human and each built from a different material: gold and silver, wood and stone, ebony and marble, glass and ice. Galateo could not help but marvel at each statue’s detail.
“None of them are right.”
The couple continued to the end of the gallery, where another alcove was concealed behind a pedestal, aiming desperately not to be noticed. The golem in this alcove was larger than the rest, and much cruder. It appeared as though Pygmalion had stacked a few boulders in the vaguest shape of a man, and fastened the rocks together without a care. The faded plaque by its feet denoted this creature as Groknakk.
“You really went all in on this one,” Galateo chided.
“Oh shut up. I made him a hundred years ago. He was my first.”
“Uh huh. How’d that name come about?”
“Groknakk. Named for the archangel of dwarven mythology who razed the mountains of Vagrum and-”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I mashed some syllables together. Made it up.”
Pygmalion turned his attention to the stone creature. “Wake up, golem,” he commanded. The hulking rocks came to life, revealing two blood red stones as its eyes.
“What is your name?” the artist asked.
“I am Groknakk,” the creature growled, its voice coarse and gravelly.
“What is your purpose?”
“I fight monsters for Pygmalion.”
“Very good. Last time you were awake, I asked you a question. Do you remember what you told me?”
The stone golem stared blankly at its creator, not responding.
“Why isn’t he speaking?” Galateo asked, worried.
“I didn’t write him a response for that particular question,” Pygmalion answered sadly. “The golems are brilliant, see? They will do exactly as I command, granted I inscribe the right runes on their form. But they’ll never improvise if they don’t have instruction, no.”
Pygmalion turned away, and Galateo began to follow. “Groknakk,” the artist called over his shoulder. “Follow me.” The stone golem lumbered behind the couple, shaking the mansion with every step.
The trio passed through the dining room and once more arrived in the lobby. Pygmalion glanced out the window one more time, and, seeing nothing of note, carried on.
“You keep watching the door,” Galateo noted. “What is it you fear the most?”
“It’s not a visitor you fear?”
Pygmalion ceased his stride, and looked outside at the falling snow. “There are no visitors here,” he replied. “People don’t come to Hyperborea.”
“Thank the gods. How terrible would it be if you had to meet another human being? You’re much better off just talking to me. And the statues.”
“Careful now,” Pygmalion warned.
“Is that why you built your mansion out here, in the cold? Did you want to be alone?”
“You know I didn’t.”
“Is it because nobody ages in Hyperborea?”
Pygmalion turned away to hide his sorrow. “Yes,” he admitted. “After we wed, I wanted a place for us to retire. And, see, I never wanted it to end, I never wanted us to age, so, I came here.”
“I’m sorry it didn’t work out that way.”
“Me too. But it’s not your fault. Let’s go now.” Pygmalion led his company down the stairs to the first sublevel, and down the hallway to the gym.
In the gym, four straw mannequins stood guard at the center of the room. Pygmalion directed Groknakk to stand in the center, as he fetched a staff from a nearby weapons rack.
“I need to try again,” he told Galateo, “but this time I’m going to alter his parameters, see? Maybe I can make him smarter, or at least more logical.” Pygmalion raised his staff, tracing runes in the air, symbols which immediately became engraved, impossibly small, in Groknakk’s stone.
“Groknakk,” Pygmalion spoke. “Punch the first target.” The stone golem swung at the first mannequin, splintering the target. “Kick the second target,” Pygmalion continued. Groknakk kicked the second mannequin across the gym. “Slam the third target,” Pygmalion concluded. The stone golem threw its weight against the mannequin, slamming it to the ground.
“Good.” Pygmalion raised his staff and the mannequins were reformed. He moved them back into their positions. “Now Groknakk… you are under attack.” The straw men snapped to attention, and turned their heads to the stone golem. “Defend yourself!”
The straw golems leaped at Groknakk, ripping uselessly at his stone form and trying in vain to force him down. Yet Groknakk punched and kicked the empty space before him repeatedly, ignoring his enemies to lash out at nothing.
“No!” Pygmalion yelled. “Improvise a little. Figure it out!” The stone golem slammed the ground in front of him, then got up and continued kicking the air.
“Fight!” the artist urged. “Fight!” Groknakk lashed forward wildly, slamming against a wall. He continued sparring the air, shattering a weapons rack in the process.
“Pygmalion, don’t do this!” Galateo warned. “This is far enough.”
“Fight!” Pygmalion repeated. Groknakk splintered a target post, then two more.
“Just let it go!” Galateo pleaded.
“FIGHT!” Groknakk slammed the far wall, fracturing a wood post and leaving cracks in the stone.
“You have nothing to prove to me,” Galateo begged. “Nothing to make right.”
“Stop it!” Pygmalion screamed. The golems immediately became idle.
“I meant it,” Galateo insisted. “You have nothing to-”
“I just want to talk about what’s really going-”
“I wish you’d stop talking, and come over here and hold me, and make everything okay.”
“But you know why I can’t do that, right?”
Pygmalion did not respond.
“Verdaneus murdered me.”
“Yet you still talk to me.”
Pygmalion shook his head, pacing away from Galateo. He needed to think.
“I’m not crazy,” Pygmalion insisted. “I know you’re dead. But I also know you’re not gone, you’re still here, because-”
“You tried to save me.”
“Because you felt responsible?”
“Everyone was marching to war. Our king needed to rule, and others wanted to stop him. And you were always the best golemancer in Yldeinstel.”
“So your king asked you to build an army of clay, to march in place of the mortals.”
“And I did. But they couldn’t be controlled. Not in any useful way.”
“So I rode into battle instead.”
“And Verdaneus murdered you.”
“But that wasn’t the end. You found me on the smoky field, beneath my dying mount, amidst the cold ash. You knelt by my broken body, and you found my soul in the dust, and you saved it in your locket. Because you were always a sentimental bastard. Is that what you regret? Is that why you spent the last century cooped in your mansion, trying to build a statue that can replace man?”
“Shut up!” Pygmalion slammed the locket shut. Galateo vanished, and the artist was alone again. Pygmalion left the gym, returning once more to the lobby where the snow fell beyond the window. He gazed upon the serene vastness of Hyperborea, on the peaceful hills of windswept frost. This was no place to be alone.
Pygmalion opened the locket. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I want you to know that I don’t regret saving your soul. I enjoy your company.”
“Don’t regret a thing. People die all the time.”
“But golems don’t.”
“Pygmalion, even if your clay army was functioning, I still would have died to protect you. And it’s not because I was programmed to, or because my all-seeing god commanded it. It’s because I love you. Because I have drives, instincts, and urges, that cannot be distilled into simple instructions. There is simply no replacement for the human soul.”
“You know, I quite think you’re right.”
“Then why does it feel like you missed my point?”
“I think a human soul is the only way to make the golems work.”
The couple stood in silence, neither willing to look the other in the eyes. Finally, Galateo spoke up.
“Are you sure that would work?”
“I am now.”
“And I would be able to hold you again?”
“Then I think you should try it.”
Pygmalion and Galateo walked side by side, once more, to the gallery. The denizens of the grand room stared at them again, this time, Pygmalion imagined, with a cold austerity. The couple walked the length of the room, stopping in front of the one statue that remained unmoving.
The figure was one of ivory- flawlessly carved in the form of a human, tall, broad, with pale violet gems for eyes. Pygmalion’s muse, his image preserved perfectly.
“It has never felt the breath of life,” Pygmalion murmured. “But I’ve written the basic parameters. The runes are already transcribed.”
“It’s perfect,” Galateo assured him. “And I’m ready.”
“I will see you again, then. Soon.” Pygmalion closed the locket, and placed it around the statue’s neck. Whispering the incantation, he gently willed Galateo’s soul to enter the ivory body.
“Wake up, golem.” The statue’s violet eyes flickered with life.
“What is your name?”
“I am Galateo.” The golem’s voice was synthetic, yet smooth, not at all like Groknakk’s coarse mutterings.
“What is your purpose?”
“I protect Pygmalion.”
“Do you know who I am?”
The golem paused. “You must be Pygmalion,” it finally answered.
“Do you remember who you were… before this?”
“I have no information about this topic.”
“You don’t know who you are?”
“I am sorry to disappoint you, master. Would you like me to research this topic?”
“No.” Pygmalion turned away. “Just go… go prepare dinner, or something.”
Pygmalion returned to the foyer, and opened the front door to feel the cold of Hyperborea’s frost. He stepped out, the harsh wind biting his flesh, but he did not feel it. The artist had accomplished his life’s work, his greatest masterpiece. He had perfected his design, and now all golems could function consciously. The world would long remember his work. But for the first time, the artist was alone.