A low fog clung tightly to the remains of a city in utter ruin, its icy, almost opaque fingers snarling on shattered stone and broken brick, leaving droplets of cool condensation on shards of splintered glass. The sun was the faintest glow through the gloom, seeming to shed no more light than a candleflame in the miserable morning air.
Arlen looked up at where the sky should be in utter misery, wishing for about the hundredth time that he hadn't agreed to come here. He disliked this ancient, brittle city with its towering, dilapidated buildings and he hated the fog which clung to everything like a shroud, seeming to suck the life out of anything that dared to grow in this wasteland, making the ruins seem even more miserable than they already where.
"C'mon, Arlen!" a giggly, girlish voice drifted back to him and he caught a glimpse of coppery hair and pale skin through the gloom as his companion scrambled over a pile of debris to get further into the ruins, "it was just through here!"
"Can't we go home now?" Arlen moaned. Fog always made him feel uneasy, but today there was something especially oppressive about it and he was unusually apprehensive. He felt as though there was something significant in the fact that he couldn't see where he was going and he was afraid to go forward incase his next step carried him through the veil into the Otherworld where his life would be irreversably changed.
"We can't turn back now!" Aisling pouted, turning her big green eyes on Arlen, "They'll tell us we can't come back, then you won't get to see it!"
Good, thought Arlen, who couldn't care less what 'it' was. But he knew it was useless; Aisling must have been told about a thousand times already that she mustn't come here - a point she conveniently 'forgot' on a regular basis. Arlen's father often half-joked that the chief's youngest daughter was one of the Feadh Readh - and he was right; Aising had a horrifying taste for adventure and uncanny knack for finding danger wherever she went. She also seemed to possess the ability to disappear at will - usually when adults were advancing upon her to dole out punishment for her latest disdemenour.
"We won't be able to see it in this fog," Arlen said hopefully - but Aisling had already resumed her headlong scramble into what seemed, disturbingly, to be the very heart of the mouldering city.
After muttering to himself for a while, Arlen sighed and started to follow - he knew it was pointless arguing with her and there was a very tiny part of him that was wondering what in the world could be so important that she had to drag him out of bed at the crack of dawn to show him.
Aisling must have known the layout of the city quite well, for by the time Arlen caught up with her he was wincing and bleeding from various cuts and scratches whereas she didn't have so much as a single bruise to show for her night's adventuring. That she had been out all night Arlen had no doubt about, for the stump of a candle was still burning brightly where she had left it on a pile of rocks that blocked the entrance to one of the buildings.
"It's in here!" Aisling proceded to climb in through an empty window frame and, somewhat exhasperated, Arlen followed.
He found himself in a large room whose walls and floorhad once been decorated with brightly coloured tiles - long since cracked, fallen and covered with the grime of many ages of disrepair. Strangely in the center of the room there was a long, rectangular patch of what looked, at first glance, to be grass.
"Don't step on it," Aisling advised, giggling. Arlen gingerly prodded the greenery with his toe and watched with avid facination as it split into ripples; it was water that had become coated with some sort of algae.
"That's not what I wanted to show you!" Aisling said, as impatient as ever, "Come on!" She led the way further into the building and Arlen followed, trying to wipe the gunk off his boot as he went.
The next room was increadibly dark, due to the fact that one of the walls had caved in, blocking off the sunlight. Arlen eyed it warily; if the rest of the room should decided to follow...
Aisling, as usual, was oblivious to such details.
"Look!" she shrieked in delight, scooping something up and holding it out for Arlen's inspection. Arlen squinted at the thing she was holding and tutted in disgust - it looked like a doll fashioned in the shape of one of the Feadh Readh, complete with gossomer-like wings ... she had dragged him out of bed for a doll?
"Look closer!" Aisling commanded, "see what it's made of, Arlen!"
Arlen obeyed and let out a low whistle of amazement. The 'doll' was made out of metal! And not only that, it was perfectly formed - it's features skillfully crafted in life-like imitation of a human body, the contours perfect, the joints as smooth and moveable as his own. The wings were made out of some substance that Arlen didn't recognise, but they were light and pliable and he had no doubts that they would function perfectly if the thing was alive.
"This one got broken," Aisling said, showing Arlen a jumble of what looked like multi-coloured threads hanging out of the back of the 'doll', "the wall fell on it yesterday and the others haven't been back to fix it yet."
"Others?" Arlen asked, finally interested - he had never seen Aisling this excited, and that was saying something!
"I've been watching them for weeks," Aisling responded, "there's loads of them - they just sort of flitted around the buildings all day,as if they were looking for something."
"Uh, right..." Arlen muttered, only half impressed. The metal dolls were interesting, he had to admit, but he still wasn't sure if they were worth being dragged out of bed for and he was somewhat surprised that Aisling - the biggest tomboy in the clan - would show such an avid facination with them in the first place.
"So...?" Aisling said, hands on hips, one russet eyebrow raised, obviously waiting for him to realise something.
"So...?" Arlen echoed, stiffling a grin; she looked just like her mother when she did that.
"So," Aisling sighed, rolling her eyes as though it should be obvious, "so when the others come back for this one, we can follow them."
"Because they've found what they were looking for, that's why! If we follow them, we can see it."
Arlen just nodded and acted as though all this should have been obvious, knowing full well that it would mean less trouble that way; Aisling had obviously forgotten that he hadn't been with her during her previous adventures and hadn't seen all that she had observed.
"How do you know they've found it?"
"Because they've stopped searching," she responded simply, "for the last few days they've been collecting things - scraps of metal and glass, mostly. I think they're trying to repair something; they use scrap metal to fix each other, but not as much as this!" She was babbling with excitement now as she dragged Arlen into the shadows, leaving the broken doll where she had found it.
They waited for what seemed to a very bored Arlen to be hours. He started to fidgit and Aisling jabbed him painfully in the ribs, looking disapproving.
"We just have to wait a while, that's all," she hissed, "I think they need sunlight to move - they're never active before sunrise."
"Aisling," Arlen sighed, "if that's the case then you'll be lucky if they move at all today! The fog." he added, seeing that she looked confused.
"Oh!" she looked so crestfallen at this flaw in her plan that Arlen felt his heart warm towards her and he said something that he would never have dared to say at any other time:
"We can always come back tomorrow."
Aisling brightened immediately, "you mean it? You really want to?"
"Sure," Arlen lied; he didn't really care overmuch about the dolls, but the only thing worse than a hyperactive Aisling was a sullen and sulky one.
Aisling let out a squeal of delight, hugged him, then raced out of the building at break neck speed.
Arlen froze momentarily, stunned at this show of affection, then shrugged it off. Girls! Aisling wasn't as different from the rest of them as she would like everyone to believe. He stood up, stretched and was about to dust himself off before following Aisling when he heard a most un-Aisling-like scream echoing from outside.
His blood turned cold; Aisling wasn't afraid of anything. He raced to reach the window through which they had entered the building, bumping into just about everything as he did so and scraping the skin painfully from both knees and his hands before he finally managed to find his way back to what little daylight there was.
"Arlen, look!" Aisling shrieked, pointing; her skin was even paler than usual so that her freckles stood out painfully against its whiteness. Arlen followed the direction of her finger and felt his blood ice over even more; there was smoke - great billowing clouds of it, sinsterly dark against the whitness of the fog - rising from the direction of their village.
Aisling let out a little cry and started to race towards the village, crying out the names of her parents and her older sister.
"Aisling, wait!" Arlen yelled, sprinting after her and falling flat on his face as the earth rumbled beneath him. He let out a cry of fright and rolled out of the way as stones and bricks started raining down, covering his head against the deluge.A shadow passed overhead and he glanced up to see a gargantuan reptile glide past, smoke billowing from its dark nostrils, it's red eyes bright against it's ebony body. Great wings beat at either side of the beast with such power that the delicate buildings all around Arlen trembled and a few more bricks parted company with the brittle mortar that had once held them together.
The dragon threw back its head and let out a chilling, almost mournful cry and a few panes of glass fibrated worryingly. Arlen let out another involuntary yell and the dragon started, thrashing out instinctively with it's tail.
Arlen watched in horror as the giant lizards tail met with one of the more dilapidated buildings in the vicinity, then ducked and covered his head, unable to move as it collapsed on top of him.
He felt a crushing weight on his right leg, another on his left arm, and barely had time to let out a yelp of pain before something collided with the back of his head and he knew no more.
It must have been sometime later when he came to, for the sun was shining brightly above him and the rocks and bricks between which he was trapped were uncomfortably warm. His left eyes was glued shut by congealed blood, his head fuzzy and he felt strangely woozy. The feeling in his arm and legwas beyond pain.
Arlen heard a faint whirring sound and looked up. His eyesight was cloudy through his one open eye, but he could have sworn that he saw a small, metallic, human-like face staring back at him before the pain took over and he slipped, once again, into oblivion.
A/N: Ta da! Chapter one - maybe a little short, but not bad for a first draft. I'll come back and improve it later, once I actually have all the story line figured out.
Well, hope you like it- I have, as requested, started a story that involves Mechs! :D