The Scrap Knight Ch.5

Nic staggered back in a sputtering, panicked flurry, thoughtless but for a desire to get away as fast as possible. This proved a less than ideal strategy, his feet stumbling over the uneven terrain. He would have fallen had the suit not shot out its hand and caught him by the belt, holding him up with a grip like stone. For a moment Nic just hung there, staring at his impromptu savior with deep confusion.

“Uh, thanks?” Nic tried.

The suit gave no response other than to release its grip. Nic stumbled but kept his footing, straightening after only a moment’s uncertainty. The suit made no move other than to lower its hand, watching Nic with its featureless helm. Expressionless but not empty, a definite presence sitting somewhere behind the faceplate, watching the young techne with inscrutable intent.

“Right, um,” Nic paused. “You friendly?”

Still the suit said nothing, turning away from Nic and towards a nearby pile of loose scrap. Using its good hand, it began to sift through the leavings, picking up pieces at random. Fragments of metal, shattered circuit boards, a hunk of melted slag that was there for some reason. Each was selected, scrutinized, and discarded when found wanting.

“Do you understand me?”  Nic asked. “Or speak at all?”

The suit did not acknowledge him, continuing to pick its way through the pile, leaving Nic at quite a loss. This was obviously some kind of animated construct, uselessly broad as that statement was. Maybe a bot that someone had thrown away without deactivating first? Possible. Nic had seen stranger designs but somehow this one felt different. He had no idea what, but he just couldn’t shake the suspicion that something unusual was afoot.

His musings were interrupted by the suit at last finding what it was looking for. From the pile it extracted a length of steel pipe, unremarkable in all respects save that it was intact and relatively straight. Rather than toss it away, the suit instead pressed one end to the severed stump of its arm. At first nothing happened, save a quiet scrapping of metal on metal. Then, a shuffling motion began at the point where the two pieces met, accompanied by a muted cracking sound.  

After several seconds the noise stopped, and the suit took its hand away. The pipe however remained stuck fast, holding straight and steady as the suit gave its shoulder an experimental shake. For all intents and purposes, the pipe had become part of its body.

Nic watched, fascinated as the suit repeated the process twice more with a broken strut and an old can. They both slotted into place as if they’d been built for purpose, forming the very basic shape of an arm and hand. It even went so far as to function, joints forming at the elbow and wrist that moved when the suit tested them.

“How are you doing that?” Nic asked.

The suit gave him only the barest acknowledgement before, without warning, plunging its crude limb into the pile. The scrap began to shift, rippling like water as something moved beneath the surface. After a moment the movement stopped and the suit pulled back from the pile to reveal a new, fully formed arm.

For a given definition of new at least. The limb was neither clean nor pretty, random bits and pieces bent, twisted, and battered into something approximating the right shape. It was far from perfect, the fingers sitting at odd angles, their surface cracked in multiple places as the suit clenched its fist to test the joints. Still, it held together and seemed to hold to at least a serviceable standard of function. Not fancy but it would do the job of being an arm well enough.

Nic had never seen anything like it before. Self assembling bots were nothing new, but that usually meant building specific parts from raw materials which they then added to themselves. This suit was skipping a step: from raw material straight into full function, as if it were animating the metal itself. That meant magic. Very powerful magic. Nic found himself ever more intrigued by the second.

With its arm repaired, the suit turned its attention to its still missing leg. Flipping over onto its front, the suit dragged itself across the ground, Nic wincing at the hideous sound of metal scraping against metal it produced. The suit seemed unbothered, even as its fresher arm began to shed bits of itself, clearly not as solid as it had first appeared. It only stopped when the new hand popped off at the wrist, a wound the suit seemed to regard as little more than a mild inconvenience.

“Uh, do you want some help?” Nic asked.

As he probably should have learned by now, the suit barely registered the words as it pressed the hand back into place, letting its strange powers reattach it. When that was done it resumed digging, selecting a few bits to shore up its arm, though none for the leg. Soon it was moving again, scraping along to rustier pastures from which to salvage replacement parts.

Nic found himself at a loss for what to do. The suit didn’t appear to be hostile, which was no guarantee of anything he knew, but still something told Nic it meant him no harm. Yet at the same time, the suit seemed wholly uninterested in anything Nic did, words or actions. A steep challenge to his strong desire to find out every possible detail about this thing.

Looking around for inspiration, Nic caught sight of something amongst the scrap. A solid length of steel sticking out from one of the piles the suit hadn’t bothered to check yet. Nic reached out to grab it, finding the object loose enough to shift but stuck on something deeper in. Grabbing it with both hands, he began to wiggle it back and forth, widening a gap on each pass. Once it was big enough to fit a finger inside, he braced himself against the ground and pulled. It resisted but he could feel it shifting, giving way bit by bit.

Nic redoubled his efforts, putting all his strength into it, managing to move it a whole inch at once. Glaring at it, he prepared to try again, choking up on it to get a better grip. He gave himself a little countdown, hopping on the balls of his feet as he counted one, two-

Three was interrupted by a loud screech as something erupted from the pile. Nic shouted in turn, losing his grip and falling back with a clatter. The shape darted away, a sleek shadow that scurried amongst the debris until it found a large enough open to scamper inside. It paused on the threshold, giving Nic a good look at its dark grey fur and beady eyes before it vanished back underground with a parting hiss.

Nic sat on the ground, dazed and confused as he rode the burst of adrenaline. He was so out of sorts that it took him a moment to realize the suit was sitting next to him. Though it lacked a face to express emotions, Nic felt a profound sense of embarrassment at his gaze.

“There uh, there was a rat.”

The suit continued to say nothing, instead turning to grab hold of the bar. It wrenched it free with the single sharp tug, giving it a once over before pressing it to the stump of its leg. As with the arm, there was a shuffling crackle as the two pieces fused into one, forming the slim profile of a brand-new peg leg.

Satisfied, the suit stuck the skeletal limb into one of the nearby scrap piles, just as it had with its arm. A similarly new leg emerged, complete with its own foot, though it lacked any toes to speak of. After a quick flex to confirm all its joints were functional, the suit leaned forward and began to lever itself up off the ground.

It moved slowly, rising first to its knees to support the weight while testing its new leg. Once it was clear the latter would hold, the suit shifted the load onto both, wobbling as the leg creaked but held together. Only then did it rise the rest of the way to stand proper.

Nic had underestimated just how tall the suit was. It loomed over him like a giant, such that Nic found himself wondering if he’d been a bit premature in his non-hostile assessment. Thankfully it made no move for violence, instead simply nodding its head at Nic in thanks.

“Uh, you’re welcome,” he said, returning the gesture. “I’m Nicholas, what’s your name?”

“Pretty lights…”

Zephyr’s voice drifted in like a summer’s breeze. Nic looked over towards him, finding the little sprite winding lazy patterns above a stack of old monitors. Looking at him, it occurred to Nic that he had been oddly silent up until now, neither speaking nor intruding. That by itself was a rarity among rarities but, coupled with the return of this strange behavior, it was now cause for outright concern.

“Do you mind?” Nic called. “I’m a bit busy here!”

“Whaaaa?” Zephyr called back, his voice a drunken slur.

“…are you okay? You’re acting weirder than normal.”


He trailed off, as if he’d forgotten what he was talking about, returning instead to swaying back and forth in the air. Nic watched, concerned the little sprite might really be broken this time.

He had no time to dwell on it as the suit began to walk away, heading deeper into the yard. Its new leg creaked under the strain leaving its stride slow but steady across the rough ground. Where it was going Sharpe only knew but it was making solid headway getting there and leaving Nic behind in the process.

“Just, come here,” Nic called to Zephyr.


He drifted over, showing no desire to rush in the slightest. Nic almost reached out to grab him, having to remind himself of the first rule and instead settled for keeping an eye on the situation as he scrambled after the suit.

Nic struggled with the climb, the terrain rougher than it had looked from below. Though that was partly his own fault for trying to make a call at the same time, stabbing at the buttons on his wrist. Intrigued as he was by all this, Nic wasn’t an idiot, and it was well past time to call in some help. His tablet dinged just as he crested the hill, Master Orlin’s icon popping up on the screen.

“Yes Ni-las?”

Nic started as his master’s voice came through his earpiece, butchered as it was by static. He double checked to make sure he had a connection, growing only more confused when it reported max signal strength.

“Uh, hello? Can you hear me?”

A burst of noise replied, followed by pulverized words.

“-llo? Ni-wher-”

“Uh, I don’t know if you can hear me but if you-”

More static cut him off, few if any words making it through this time.

“I need help at Gibson, something’s wrong wi-”

The connection went dead, dropping off with a robotic crunch. Nic thumbed through the program, looking to try again when a sudden gust of wind rushed past. He looked back to find Zephyr drifting away, blasting scrap around like a child kicking a ball.

“Ooohhh, lights…”

“Zephyr will you please stop-” Nic began, taking a step towards the errant construct. He wasn’t quite sure what he’d been intending to do but was spared the need to figure it out when the ground gave way beneath him.


For a moment, Nic’s world went topsy-turvy. Up became a foreign concept as he tumbled end over end, his front and back striking unseen solids on the way down. He caught only flashes on the way, darkness and disorientation rendering everything into a blurry smear of chaos.

It ended as suddenly as it had begun, though that meant little more than exchanging many small pains for a singular big one. Whatever he landed against clanged on impact, sending his ears ringing and driving the air from his body in great rush. For several seconds that was all he could focus on, gasping and gulping as he tried to remember how lungs worked.

After several seconds of abject panic he managed to regain his breath, treating himself to a moment of enjoying the taste of oxygen again. Only when his breathing had settled back to some degree of normal did he bite the bullet and take a stab at moving.

His first attempt met with instant failure, fresh hurts springing up all along his side and sending him crashing back to the ground. A second, slower try was more successful, though he still cursed at each twinge of movement. Everything seemed to be working at least, nothing feeling broken as he flexed limbs, joints, and digits. A small mercy.

As the pain began to fade, Nic worked himself up to a sitting position and took in his surroundings. He lay in a dark space, surrounded by rough, jagged shapes that stuck out at random angles. It continued further than he could see, the thin beams of sunlight streaming down from the ceiling too dim to illuminate more than a few feet of distance. Beyond that there lay only shadows and who knew what else.

Looking at his wrist, Nic was relieved to find his tablet was still strapped to his arm. Even better it wasn’t broken, the screen coming to life under his touch as he pulled up his casting interface. Swiping through the list of loaded spells, he loaded the code for a simple light cantrip and executed the program. A flare of source-less light appeared in response, banishing the shadows as it filled the chamber with its pale white glow.

Though even with the added illumination, there wasn’t much to see. The dark shapes became scrap, surrounding him on all sides as the walls of a rough cavern. It was only a few feet across and about the same high, enough that Nic could stand to his full height but not much more. Two paths stretched away in opposite directions, quickly vanishing around bends as they cut deeper into the metal.

It looked natural, after a fashion, though how it had formed Nic could not imagine. Random chance producing gaps in the pile perhaps? That would certainly explain the cave-like feel of the place, though how such a large space could form, let alone hold its shape, remained a mystery.

A thought occurred and Nic looked up. Where there should have been a hole above him, the one he fell through, there was only more scrap. Perhaps a little more suffused with light than the rest but nothing to indicate there had ever been an opening.

“Zephyr!” Nic called out, jumping as his voice echoed through the cavern. It lasted several seconds, rattling down the tunnel before fading away into the distance. Nic waited, listening, but heard no reply.

“Hey! Zephyr, you hear me!?”

No reply, save the echo of his own voice.

Forcing himself to stay calm, Nic looked back to his tablet, switching from spells to call function. He pressed the icon to connect to Zephyr and was caught by genuine surprise when it immediately failed to connect.

“The hells?” Nic muttered.

He tried the call again and the same error appeared. He tried several more times, switching to Master Orlin, Isabella and even the police, all meeting with the same failure.

“Great,” Nic said. “Wonderful.”

The obvious actions exhausted, Nic was left at an impasse. The smart thing to do would be to hold still and wait for someone to come find him. Zephyr would be trying to reach and if he couldn’t do it, would be calling someone who could. The little sprite was annoying, not malicious. He had also, Nic remembered, been behaving like a barely cognizant drunk just before the ground had collapsed. That did not instill confidence in the little sprite’s ability to help in the current moment.

Focused on his predicament, Nic near jumped out of his skin when something grabbed his shoulder. He whirled around, fists raised and swinging at his silent attacker. A mistake in hindsight as his knuckles met metal with a painful thud.

“Ow!” Nic cried, cradling his now very sore hand and looking up to find the suit standing before him like a stone.

“Don’t, do that!” Nic said.

The suit stood unmoved, it’s only expression a slight tilt of the helmet. It raised a hand, the original one, and pointed at Nic’s injury.

“I’m fine, my own fault.” Nic gestured at the suit’s own hand, the original one which was now missing several fingers. “You alright?”

The suit shifted its hand to look at it, showing no expression one way or the other. Turning to the nearby wall, it snapped off a random length of metal and pressed it to where the missing thumb should be. A few seconds later and the digit was fully attached and functional again.

“Still want to know how you do that.” Nic gestured up at the ceiling. “Do you think you could lift me up? I might be able to get a signal.”

The suit said instead turned away and walked down the tunnel. Nic watched after, brain spinning as he tried to figure out what was going on here. He hadn’t made much progress when the suit stopped at the bend, turning back to look at Nic. For a time they just stared at one another, inscrutable meeting uncomprehending, before the suit raised a hand and gestured for Nic to follow.

“I don’t think I should move,” Nic said. “People are going to be looking for me.”

The suit tilted its head, then turned and disappeared around the corner. Nic was left alone, surrounded by nothing but shadows and the creak of settling metal.

“…aw hells.”     

Before he could think better of it, Nic ran to catch up.


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