A dusty hut had an interior glow like twilight even though the day outside was at solar noon. The woods around the hut were tall, and their branches spread far and thick. A gnome woman inside lit a group of half-used candles to provide her better light. She was short and her round facial features, though wrinkled, told of her hill-gnomish heritage.
Beams of light broke through the thatched ceiling and illuminated motes of dust and mold that stirred in the air as she moved to a corner and took items out of a set of sacks and pouches. Lastly, she procured from the pile a small, even to her, wooden box and undid the two golden latches on its front. With one hand on the box’s bottom, and the other on its thin, decoratively painted lid, she opened its top. A hay-padded and silk-lined interior glowed a soft green. The illumination was cast by a hunk of mossy-colored, oily-surfaced crystal.
A groan passed through the air as if issued by a subterranean dragon, but Boifa knew it to be the tree that the hut was built on to. Three walls and a tree formed the hut’s exterior. A few roots poked through the baseboards that had buckled under the strain, increasing each and every year, of the ever-growing root system of this tree. Boifa, having lived in this hut for years, dodged the roots that often tripped the rare visitor and moved from the corner back to a table in the middle of the hut. The very same that contained the candleholders of mixed sizes whereon the candles sputtered and sent up puffs of smoke, like the sleeping puffs of the subterranean dragon.
She set the box, lid laid back, on the table top and quickly gathered her other ingredients. On the floor next to her was a pile and assortment of rocks. They were stacked in a way as to leave gaps between the individual stones, but also provide support for the structure as a whole. The stones had been built up earlier by Boifa’s husband Noikzu according to a smudgy diagram they had come across in a recent trip to the city of Jyehk’vles. Just now Boifa heard the stone-scraping of her husband outside the hut.
“Just a tiny bit of glass from the womb of Iomesel to set a glow to the boulders.” She spoke with awe and looked at the box. With a laugh, she eagerly lifted the crystal out of its resting place using a cloth to keep the oil on the gem from mixing with the oil on her fingers. A tinkle like that of a coin pouch jingling from a steed’s harness bounced off the hut’s walls and tree bark and Boifa’s eyes took on the green moss glow as her eyebrows stretched and revealed the whites of her eyes. “How could the gnomes have ever forgotten this?” Her voice trailed down to a reverent whisper.
Her stomach gurgled but she ignored her hunger. She used both hands to place the crystal on the table, on the cloth, to keep its oil from mixing with the oil used to polish the table. Scribbles on the parchment margins noted the dangers of contamination and Boifa would not ignore the warning.
She bobbed her head up and down with excitement as if transferring momentum from cranium to the rest of her body to be able to stand, for when she did stand the head movement stopped and she stepped over to the hut’s door. Its hinges squealed and a board too-long grated over a root too-high as Boifa poked her head out from the hut and swiveled her eyes about to find her husband. The scraping sound made her flinch a bit; it sounded too much like a metal spoon knocking on teeth.
Noikzu sat on the ground, legs splayed in a circle around the contraption used to hold a small rock. A chisel in one hand, hammer in the other, and seeing spectacles made for the likes of a human plopped on his face.
“Have you been careful?” Boifa asked.
“Yes, much care,” Noikzu nodded as he focused and chiseled.
“Have you been precise?” Boifa asked.
“Yes, most precise,” Noikzu nodded as he considered the mark just made.
“Are the angles just so?” Boifa stretched her hand out and brought the forefinger and thumb to within mere dust motes of one another.
Noikzu straightened his hunched back as much as he could and laid a final whap with the hammer to the chisel before he set aside those instruments and picked up a hardened steel file. “All is just so.”
He ran the file over the edges of the chisel marks until the face of the rock and the engraving were smooth. With a grin that spread from oversized-eyepiece to oversized-eyepiece, he turned and briefly presented his work. Then he stood (which took him a moment and some gruff grunts), removed the spectacles (which he placed in a shirt pocket, even though the frames were at risk of leaping out of the diminutive pocket and to the rooted ground), and drew back into the hut’s darkened interior (to which it took his eyes several seconds to adjust, as will anygnome’s when they reach sufficient age).
At the door, Boifa swept the stones from Noikzu’s hands and admired his work before she compared them to the diagrams. The diamond shapes were precise and the carvings angled just so, because her husband had indeed been as careful as he said.
Noikzu went first to a small chest near their bed and withdrew two glass bottles and two brushes before continuing on to the table. He set the bottles down with a familiar clink and wet the paint brush tips on his tongue. He popped the stopper of the first bottle and inserted the brush to dive into the paint, though only up to the end of the bristles. Dunking the handle into the paint would be wasteful and wrong. Noikzu withdrew the bristles, laden with their charcoal black paint, and drew the pigment along the chisel marks on one stone. The form was bold and glistening. The second stone he made glisten with a golden paint that, when moved under a light, revealed individual facets of gold flecks.
He set aside the paint brushes, pulled a candle holder closer to the stones, and his tongue peaked out of the corner of his mouth as he squinted at both stones and their markings. Eventually, he nodded with a finality. “I’m thinking these will be just the runes we need.”
Boifa’s vision was better than Noikzu’s so she did not need to squint or sit so near. She could tell right from where she stood that they were, “Just so.”
Without another word between them (such was the advantage of working with a partner for such a length of time), Boifa cradled up the cloth and crystal. She took it to the assortment of rocks and gently directed it through a canal to the interior where a slot had been carved for the crystal to rest. A gust of wind sucked into the hut from the doorway, windows, and thatched roof. Boifa’s hair fluttered and she withdrew the cloth. She shook out the cotton square and wiped her hands down; in her excitement, they’d begun to sweat.
Noikzu’s smile again spread over his face. He pushed some of the rocks together now that no arm-hole was needed. Two depressions remained for the stones he’d carved. One after the other, he plunked the runes into their spaces. The hut exhaled and Noikzu moved back, more from shock than the gust.
The boulders shifted once, twice, three times on their own. The glistening of the rune paint took on an illumination – the mossy glow of the crystal now sealed deep within the rocks. It stood there before them, under its own power, and a groan from the tree could have been mistaken for the fretful uncertainty of the forest at large.
“I…” Noikzu began. “I guess we shall need a new sheaf for our rules.”
Boifa patted her hands on the table – feeling the moment not quite right for her to speak – then rubbed them in circles (the direction of her left hand mirrored that of her right). She cleared her throat. “Do you hear me?” she asked.
No sound came aside from the construct’s stones grating against themselves as it moved. The Golem’s runes aimed at her as two eyes were answer enough.