by Chris Cook

The Engineer made his way inconspicuously through the twisting corridors of the fairytale castle, ignoring his surroundings. He ambled past chained prisoners, shadowy bodies twisting and heaving together, corpses lying where they had fallen, paying them all no attention. The doors opened ahead of him, and once he was through closed without a sound.

"My Queen?"

Her chambers were always different, every time he had been inside. Now it was shimmering, gauzy curtains that decorated the rooms, their luxury hiding the chains and hooks. Incense hung in the air, sharpened with blood. He enhanced his vision, producing the tiniest whirr from his twin bionic eyes, seeing through obstructions. A body was stretched upright beyond the curtains, chained at her wrists and ankles, blood running down her legs to pool on the marble a few inches beneath her hanging feet. She seemed dead, until one of the shadows surrounding her swung a flail, producing a high-pitched wail and another pouting gouge across her back. The Engineer scaled his eyes back a fraction, and the shadows resolved into lithe daemons.

"My Queen?" he repeated, louder. The daemons vanished, their flails and whips falling to the floor, their carved ivory handles clattering. The victim fell to her knees as the chains withered to dust, then stood again, her back healing.

"Watching my private moments?" she said mockingly. Despite himself the Engineer took a step back, retuning his eyes to normal vision, seeing only curtains shifting in the breeze. She appeared behind one of them, her form visible enough through the sheer fabric. He couldn't see her eyes, though, only her body.

"Your commission is complete, my Queen," he said, lowering his face so the twin lenses saw only the mosaic patterns in the floor - no less revealing, but at least not alive. She knew he wanted to avoid such distractions, and deliberately placed them in his way.

A tearing sound drew his attention upward again. A single finger, tipped by a razor-sharp painted nail, drew a line through the curtain until it fell down, bundling around her abdomen where she caught it. Stretching it across herself she tucked a corner in, enough to hold the fabric in place as a makeshift sarong. If it had been opaque, it would have been more modest than her usual attire. Her eyes glittered like diamonds, with a cutting edge.

"Then the interruption is forgiven," she laughed, "lead the way."

Again he ignored the various activities around him as he walked ahead of her through the corridors. The proximity sensors in his skull noted her head turning, gazing longingly at the participants. Her breathing was heavier.

"So this is where you do your magic," she commented when the plain steel doors had closed behind her, sealing the Engineer's room from the rest of the castle. She looked around, frowning at the collection of exotic machinery. Manipulator assemblies, like huge spiders, hung from the ceiling, their masses surrounding a bulk in the centre of the stone floor.

"Magic of a sort, if you wish to call it such," the Engineer answered, crossing to a control box. He flexed his fingers, letting the coils emerge from his palm and connect him to the spider-machines. In a series of graceful movements they retracted, leaving their prey standing alone.

"No, not magic," she breathed, "this is better."

The suit stood eight feet high, its golden edges gleaming as if touched by sunlight. It had been a simple Terminator suit, but the attention lavished on it had turned it into something undefinable, more than equipment. The ebony-black panels of the legs and arms were decorated with intricate, almost-real figures, filling the spaces with tangles of limbs and flesh. The gold was worked into similar designs, borders formed of linked bodies lending definition to the shape of the armour.

Sylelle approached it slowly, perhaps in awe, finally reaching out to touch it. Her hand found the rim above where the wearer's head would be, touching it on its left side, where two tiny figures shared a chaste kiss, travelling along the rim and across a catalogue of rising passions and shattered inhibitions.

"As you requested," the Engineer said, an undeniable touch of pride in his voice, "in every detail."

Sylelle's hand finished its path around the rim, caressing the final images of bodies torn limb from limb. She leaned forward, resting against the chest of the giant suit, hugging it as if it were alive. Her eyes closed.

"What reward do you desire?" she asked calmly.

"Others offered me power. Riches. Immortality."

"And yet you came here. And you haven't answered my question."

"The same reward they would have given me. I will not leave here alive, I expect."

"Of course not. So why come here at all? Why labour all the days and nights, secluded in this sterile place, refusing all pleasure offered to you?"

The Engineer shrugged casually.

"Why does a candle burn?" he replied. The Queen's eyes opened again.

"Indeed," she grinned. She crossed to stand beside the Engineer, covering his hand with her own. He felt the slight itch beneath his skin as she used the controls in his hand. The suit came to life with a subtle hum, throbbing like a heartbeat. Its chest and limbs curled open, the panels folding back on themselves to present a shaped cavity for the wearer to inhabit.

"In every detail?" she asked leisurely.

"I thought you might choose me," he answered, resignation casting all other feelings from his voice.

"This is your masterpiece," she said, "you condemned yourself to build it. Should it be wasted on a mere slave?" The Engineer remained silent. "I will not deny you the opportunity to give your work the life it needs. You fashioned it. Did you imagine what it would be like? Did you anticipate? Was there ever a moment when you were impatient to feel your creation have you?"

She stepped back, raising both hands. In mirror, the Engineer's arms rose involuntarily, the coils in his hand pulling free of the control box in a shower of sparks. His body drifted across the room, feet trailing on the floor, until he swung slowly around to float spreadeagled in front of the waiting armour. Sylelle smiled, then put a finger to her lips in mock surprise.

"But wait!" she exclaimed with a grin, "you must be made pure. Had you remembered?"

The Engineer's face, so far as it was visible beneath his bionic eyes and breather, shifted to a display of surprise, then shock as the mechanical spiders lowered back down to surround him. Their thin legs dug at his flesh, gripping the myriad enhancements in his body firmly. At a signal from the Queen they pulled back, slowly tearing the machines from his body. He knew he now had thirty seconds to live, without the breather. His bleeding body, sobbing its life away through the gaping holes, slammed back into the suit.

'Even now,' he heard her voice in his mind, with no ears remaining for sound, 'you want it, don't you?'

Sylelle watched in satisfaction as the interior of the suit revealed its bounty of claws, needles and restraints. Locking onto the Engineer's limbs the suit stretched him to fit its massive form, breaking every major joint of his skeleton. The folded panels, bristling with invasive devices, swung closed to the soft sound of his skin being punctured. Only his head remained visible, staring out through two bloodied eye sockets above the tattered remains of his upper lip. Steel tendrils appeared from beneath the suit's neck, digging into his cheeks, coiling around his skull. With a sudden movement, echoed by further grisly sounds from the body of the armour, he was torn apart.

Sylelle approached the suit, watching as it changed. The ebony surfaces glistened like wet skin bound by the gold metal, and the cables running across the suit's chest and beneath its massive arms pulsed like living flesh, veins standing out on their surfaces. She raised a hand, palm down. With a crash the armour dropped to one knee, bowing subserviently to her.

"Mine," she said.

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