Friday, September 30, 2011

Instant Fantasy #4: Unnamed

What is silence?
Is it that brief period of nothingness, wherein the rasp of a blade, sliding from its sheath, seems doubly ominous, as though some gut instinct tells you- "this is the sound to be aware of". 
So I thought, as the strike severed the branch at its base.
I see nothing, I told myself. I see nothing.
And again, like a mantra, I see nothing.
The axe in my hands felt like a thousand kilograms, like a chain from the abyss, dragging me down to hell. I was damned.
Knowing it doesn't make it any easier when the time comes to make that choice; it only makes it harder, the tension, the terrible awareness makes you dread each second until, like kissing the tip of a blade, you wait for the sword to sink hilt-deep.
Foresight is of no use when the path you choose is a binary one- there are no three ways about it. You either hold your hand, or extend your arm; and the choices are there not to stay, but to haunt you till the rest of your life.
Worse still is that people gather, not to mock and jeer, but if you look into those obsidian stares, all you see is countless reflections of yourself. Make the choice, and that carefully-constructed eidolon shatters beyond repair, a mirror promising seven years of bad luck with interest.
Fate is a bitch.
One last look at the Prosecutor, who stood so gravely, his air of fine contempt like the Faustian devil; I have consigned your soul to hell, you may follow it there; then stood the Judge, in his mercurial presence, a thin rake of a man, whose sole authority lay in what the office granted him; and lastly the officer, stolid and silent; I have done my job, to find my prey; do your job, and don't delay.
So be it. 
My soul is as darkened as any of those I kill; what matters it that I follow them soon? In hell, we are all judged alike, kings and peasants, cats and mice.
Paladins... and executioners.
I patted the axe once more, and she shoon, crooning softly for fresher blood.
The convict shivered, his head on the block, his eyes feverishly searching for a familiar face; for even a speck of humanity, of familiarity to be found- "please," he seemed to beg, "please, do not send me there so aloof". I hefted the axe. A familiar weight does not lessen over the years- but grows until you have to bend over, trying to carry it. 
Time slows down, as if some higher power revelling in the long memories of humans, wants us to fully appreciate the power we hold over ourselves, locking our lives into a wheel of industry and law, hierarchy, where we distribute unequally, and punish those who try to show us a better way of life.
I counted my years in that swing, like I have done for so many. They say you always remember your first kill.
They are wrong. You forget it, because after that happens, you lose a piece of your soul, the most important part of it that cares for your fellow man.
And when you lose it, it's like a banner flying over your head; others instinctively sense it, like you or I can tell a leper at twenty paces- and go to great pains to avoid them.
The feel of the axe hitting something is never pleasant. It's a shiver that runs up your arm, making every bone vibrate for just enough time to affect, the feel of your own muscles tensing involuntarily, putting unneeded effort into the equation, then a relaxation, as flesh parts seemingly of its own accord.
A clean kill, they call it, when the bone is severed flat; little do they know how bone feels under the edge of an axe; like some faltering castle wall, it stands firm for a few seconds under a battering ram, then gives way. The spine splinters, unable to bear a strain it was never meant to feel; then gives way, and for a few moments, the axe flies of its own accord, and veins pop out while you try to slow it down.
Another pause, as you feel the edge of the axe hit the wood below, as though finding that familiar gouge on the block by force of habit, wherein the axe is the thinker and the human but a machine.
The blood spurts like a fountain, and the heart itself pumps out the ichor needed to keep the body hale. Worst of all, though, is the head- detached, unheld, it rolls like some macabre ball, no longer seeming human, eyes glazed over, in a rictus of less pain, more fear and intense surprise; as though, in his final moments, the owner saw something he could never believe.
I hope, for his sake, that he made his peace to whatever Gods see fit to let this cycle continue. 
Humanity has never actually deserted violence, as so many try to convince themselves, affecting themselves enlightened, civilized, sophisticated.
No.
When it comes to that, strip a man's face from his flesh; and what is underneath is the same as any other, no distinction whatsoever; if we, in our oldest ages, would use bone and club to crush our opponents, is it any different from the axe, or the rapier? From the flintlock, or the revolver?
Or from the muzzle of a cannon?
All we've actually done, is to find new, and more sadistic, ways of actually killing our fellow man. 

Until then... until then, I keep making that binary choice; until then, I remain one of Charon's minions, fuelling his train into the Abyss.
*
Sometimes you just let your pen wander, your hands play across the keyboard, and come up with stuff so random, so bizarre, that later you wonder whatever had possessed you to write it- and that memory's a blank. This is a bizarre story- I've no idea what prompted it, and although I usually give a title after finishing it, nothing comes to mind.
Comments- and ideas for a title- appreciated.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Instant Fantasy#3: Prelude to the March

(Dedicated to two people: one, an artist I admire, as much for the detail he brings out as the subjects he uses; Luis Royo. 'The Hallowed Isle' is the one I used for a template; and two, Henryk Sienkiewicz, the author of With Fire and Sword, one of the greatest novels I've read. Worth mentioning in the same breath is the game, a recent version of Mount&Blade with the same name- another brilliant franchise, and with the same background to boot.)
*
Dazar lies in ruins, majesty. What will you do now?
Turn my thoughts, and my gaze eastward. The south has tasted of my steel, and my blood, until they could stomach it no more, the bastards. Eastwards lies gain. Eastwards lies battle.
Eastwards, majesty, lies also the might of Maltheria. Would you chance it, a single gamble of the dice, stake your power, your empire, your life?
Life is to be lost someday, witch. If not today, then tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then lost wasting away in the throes of old age or disease, in some foul jungle bitten by the devil's messenger. I care not. Eastwards we march.
The armies stand ready, the men stand valiant. Will you, though, not spare a thought for your people?
My people. 
It seems fitting, does it not. After years of conquest and decades of planning, I have reached thus far... to get what was rightfully mine; mine own throne, a queen, and a nation. 
Is it not enough, then, to have in your hand what all you wished for, or are you still yearning of that glory in battle?
I am, it seems... and my people have their ministers four. They may administer in my place, while I tend to matters of warcraft and siege, glory and conquest... let the softbloods govern themselves! 
Leave me with ten thousand swords, and ten thousand horse; with a steed under me and a longsword in my hand. The feel of blood in the air, the roar of battle as might clashes might. No, witch. I shall have none of this petty statecraft. I was born of fire, of the loins of kings.. the true kings of this land, whose bones lie in their graves yet unrotten, so strong is their will.
Does that will drive you on, my liege, or is it your own... do not confuse duty with desire; wholly embrace that which you wish- or you will remain forever as they did, confused, meandering souls not yet granted the peace of the abyss nor sanction into heaven.
They lie in their graves. I do not. I have what I need. I have a destiny.
Is that enough, majesty?
Will you, that I, like those ancestors of mine, the warlords of old, will have nothing but a nation that needs me not, a people that hears me not, an army that is content to wither in its forts and castles and defend from dangers that be not, and then you, witch, will one day whisper to a descendant mine; is it enough?
No, it is not enough. It will never be enough. And to my dying day I will not have enough if I take this path. But understand me once- if I stay here, and deign to rule, then I may be satisfied, life may be full of pleasures unknown and pains unforseen. If I ride this night, and I put to fire and sword whatever unholy terrors lie, then that holds its own pleasures, and pains.
It seems that your majesty has little need for me.
Oh, I need you. I need your knowledge, your poisons, your soft little words in my ear, as much as I need your presence by my side when we march... or marry. You know too much for me to let you go- as I am sure that my ancestors thought. You are immortal, and that is your burden. I am not, and that is mine. Leave this matter, and tonight we shall depart this castle.
So many will perish.
For a greater glory. A unified empire. Can you not see that in power lies the path to peace, witch? Peace can only be upheld by one who has the power to uphold it. All else is illusion; all else fails. A form of governance, like the one I leave behind me, shall fall into kleptocracy.
And say nothing that I am not who shall unite this land. I gain nothing unless I try.
If you fail, then who wins, majesty?
Another son of this land, who sees the opportunity and the power with his own cunning and wisdom; one who rises from the depths to ascend to an iridiscent zenith even I may not imagine... and he will take up my sword, my cause, and rally men to his banner. Perhaps he shall do so in fugue or in sound mind; but if I fail, then all I do is join the ranks of those who tried, watching the empty grave next to me slowly fill, as mine own neighbour would be now. 
With accolades, or blood, I know not.
Uncertainty here can breed misfortune, majesty... but far be it from me to try and ravel that which my mates would tie tighter than a spider's web. So be it. I march with you, and as is my duty, will one day inter you.
How many have you advised this way, witch? How many of my predecessors fell in this land, or by your hand?
They are one and the same, majesty; I am the land. Far be it from me to stop the revelries of mortal-kind; I advise, and I see, century after century, blood, death, hunger, thirst... I have seen death, and I have spoken to him; even the Reaper grows weary of this massacre. 
I do not measure time as you will; time is not a river to me anymore, fast and bold, but a lake, and I stand, perched on a rock, in that centre, waiting for a hand to lift me out of stagnation.
And it has never come... so all I can do is wait, and hope. 
And with that hope shall I, as I have done countless times, see another young man take up the sword in his land's name- and desecrate it as man always has.
As you will, your majesty, and I follow.
*
A narrative. No characters mentioned by name, but described by each other; I didn't want to spend paragraphs or even sentences trying to describe them. You're better off looking at Luis Royo's Hallowed Isle
Criticism appreciated- JN

Friday, September 9, 2011

Instant Fantasy #2: The Lightkeeper

(Author's note: Today's word is 'Bilt'. Slightly light-hearted; a one-shot without too much history behind it. Read on.)
*
The Lightkeeper
Bilt walked the lonely paths from Daggerrun to Yeoman's End alone. His job was to simply make sure the lights along the stretch remained lit.
Or else, as his old gran said, things crept in from the marshes to prey on the good folk. It shouldn't happen, so his family had carried on the task of keeping the foglamps lit. There was the chance that whatever came to blow them out would retaliate, and have perfectly good reasons for doing so, but Bilt had been told never to listen to tricksters and strangers, so he didn't. He used his stick to drive them away.
And if they didn't want to be driven away, then Bilt had permission to put them away, permanently.
Bilt lifted the torch all the way to the basin, letting the oil get a good long touch of the magic flame. His gran said that the torch had burned for three hundred years, now, and his gran's gran had found it deep in the forest, and had decided that some good should come out of an everlasting flame.
Bilt resumed his walk. Things like everlasting torches were of no interest to him; he knew his part in the world, and his gran said that if one knew what was to be done, then life was peaceful, orderly and good. His gran was rarely wrong.
Suddenly, Bilt heard a noise. Bilt knew that a noise meant something was moving; he knew these marshes as good as he knew the back of his hand.
He turned to the source of the noise, mildly inquisitive. As long as it didn't want to blow out a torch, he didn't mind it. 'Excuse me,' he began, 'are you here to blow out a torch?'
'Torch,' something said, and Bilt slammed the torch into the shadowy figure. It went down in a heap.
'Nasty buggers. Don't even think about it.' So saying, Bilt walked on.
As he walked on, he saw that the ground seemed overly red today. Of course, that wasn't saying much- the marshland glowed a different colour at different times of the day. Gran said it was because of an old curse that drew the fog. Bilt didn't know about any old curse, but he reasoned that if he did, he'd be spinning stories and telling legends like gran.
Bilt wasn't too concerned. He had clogs thick enough to walk through most of the marsh, and the barges were serviceable enough.
Eventually, he ran into the source of the problem. Here, of all places, a group of adventurers were trying to fight a dragon. 'Don't have any sense,' he thought, watching the five men try to overpower a creature four times their size. The dragon glowed a brilliant red, flames scorching the wet marsh every few minutes. The adventurers, though, remained unaffected- perhaps their armour could withstand a lot of heat.
'Unholy creature!' One of them roared at the dragon. 'Give us the Church's symbol back! The Eternal Flame rightfully belongs to the Church and Faith!'
The dragon roared right back at him. 'Misguided Paladin! Spawn of idiots! I know no such thing! I've never seen an Eternal Flame, much less stolen it! Ouch!' That last was for a paladin who took the opportunity to stab the dragon in the side. 'Now I'm mad!' Another torrent of hell-fire. Bilt deftly avoided the deluge of flame. 
He walked on; he had no interest in watching a dragon and paladins go ten rounds.
He walked straight into the middle of the chaos, calmly lighting the foglamp in the middle of the clearing. For a few moments, both parties were distracted, and stared at this late entry.
'Hello. Do you want to blow out the foglamp?' Bilt asked, ever polite.
'This foglamp?' The dragon asked, pointing. Bilt nodded. 'No,' the dragon said, but the breath that accompanied that single syllable blew it out anyway. Bilt shook his head and re-lit it. Then he jumped up onto the dragon's back, avoiding the nasty spines along the way, and made his way to the dragon's head, sitting on its scaly skin. The dragon, disconcerted by this stranger, was as surprised as the paladins.
'You shouldn't blow out the foglamps. Otherwise nasty things creep in from the fog.' And to emphasize his point, Bilt slammed the torch into the dragon's skull. The flame poured out of every orifice- the mouth, the ears, the nostrils, and a few others best left unsaid. 
He jumped off the now-screaming dragon, who wasn't really sure where to rub, but compromised by flapping his wings and making a lot of noise. 'Too much noise, Master Dragon, you'll attract the things from the marsh,' Bilt tutted, before turning to the paladins. 'Are you here to blow out the foglamp?' One of the paladins, a man with the largest sword Bilt had ever seen, stepped up to him. 
'Young man,' he said, taking off his helmet to reveal a frighteningly scarred face, 'that torch belongs to the Church.' Bilt was surprised. None of the legends his gran had told him mentioned that this torch actually belonged to anyone.
'I need it to light the foglamps. It belongs to my great-greatgrandfather.' 
'Father, let us off with this country bumpkin and we shall have what we came for,' another paladin said, raising his sword above his head. Bilt slammed the torch, flame first, into his helmet. The paladin fell, a smoking heap, but still alive.
'I don't like swords,' he said, touching the fallen sword with his shoe, pushing the blade away from him. 'Sharp. Don't like sharp stuff.' The paladins stared at him for a few more moments, before the un-helmeted one looked at helmets two to four. 
'Right. We'll leave you, then.' Bilt nodded gravely, watching the paladins walk off.
'Wait,' Bilt called. They turned back.
'Are you sure you want to go that way?'
'Yes.'
'That way leads into the marsh.'
'So?'
'This is the only way out of the marsh.'
'No, it isn't.'
'Yes, it is. Gran said none of the other routes were safe anymore, so Gran used to get up early in the morning to work till evening, just so this route could be lit. He spent years trying to put every foglamp in its place while also making sure that the ground wasn't too bad to walk on, and also made the barges three lamps ahead so that people could cross the river without being eaten by the creatures in the marsh. Gran worked just so that people like you could reach Yeoman's end safely, or return to Daggerrun from there without being hurt by the things in the marsh.'
'But we don't want to go to Yeoman's End,' the paladins protested.
'Then go to Daggerrun,' Bilt suggested. 'Daggerrun's not too far from here, just around ten lamps away. And it's a nice city there, people are rich, the buildings are large, and the air is full of magic. Gran used to say elves lived at Daggerrun once, and you can still see them there.'
'We're going to Mountainshead. Our church is there.'
'There's a caravan to Mountainshead every two months from Daggerrun. They go through a lot of cities, and it's very nice,' Bilt said helpfully. If they went straight into the marsh, then the things would get them.
'Are you trying to make fools out of us?' Helmet number three asked.
'No,' Bilt said. 'You're confusing me. Don't you want to go to Yeoman's End?'
'Yeoman's- no, we don't! We're going to Mountainshead!'
'That's where the caravan is going. Oh, yes- you're going to Daggerrun to take the caravan, then?'
'No!'
'Why?' For some reason, this simple question seemed to confuse them worse than it confused Bilt. They didn't seem to have an answer. Poor misguided souls, Bilt thought. The marsh air was making them light-headed. Why go through miles of marsh when you could go through the lit path and get to Daggerrun safe and sound? 'I will come with you.'
'You will?' The unhelmeted one asked, looking hopeful. 
'I'll come till Daggerrun.' 
'No, that's all right, son. We're going to Mountainshead.'
'But-'
'It's all right. The Lord protects. The eternal flame keeps watch. Go about your business.' It sounded like a blessing, and Bilt took that seriously, coming from such a kind paladin. He nodded, bowed, and went back to his work with renewed vigour.
*
As the paladins saddled their horses, Helmet number three turned to the Father. 'Are you sure you don't want to go back and tell him?'
'That the marsh was cleared a century ago? Father Karstar once travelled this way, and he ran into an eccentric man who kept lighting this stretch. Because of the energy the flames exude, the stretch sits on a portal to unknown dimensions, from where creatures of untold power keep sneaking in to take the energy for themselves. A man who keeps these creatures at bay so easily, is not one to be disturbed lightly.
'Besides,' he said, mounting his horse, 'how would you convince him to put one foot off that path, I'd like to know.'
Helmet number three considered it, then shrugged, and followed the Father's lead.
*

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Re-post: Lust for life

Author's note: I ran into this while cleaning up my hard drive. I remember when typing it out that I'd let the reader wonder if it was real or fictional. My policy is usually to write what I know... some things just freeze your fingers in mid-stroke, when memories flood, and emotions rush. This is one of those stories that does that to me.
*
‘Love is for the losers.’
Oh, yes. I remember that dull afternoon, when I sat in one of those bloody coffee shops in which one is subjected to sit indefinitely and waste around two or three hundred bucks of his sister’s salary and, of course, a lot of sunlight.
I could have done the same thing at much less cost at home, the clear difference being I wouldn’t be arguing what appeared to be a perfectly useless subject: Human behaviour in general and love in particular, with this girl who looked like a model and acted like a devil. She snapped her fingers, her green eyes seething with anger, but her face flushed with what I hoped was challenge. Or, if I was particularly lucky, the wish to get going as far away from this annoying worm as possible. The feeling was mutual.
‘Love is for the losers?’ she nearly spat. ‘Oh, right. Maybe it’s because you’re way too shy to go find some of your own.’ Laughing mirthlessly, I pointed at the pair of lovers who were a step away from entangling themselves in their partner’s arm. Perhaps two steps away from stripping down and making love right here. Except this was India, and Indians are rather conservative.
I adjusted my perpetually falling spectacles as she subsided slightly, taking her point as proven. ‘Look at those two. They’re so much in each other’s arms. Love.’ I took out my switchblade, and very stylishly- or so I thought- let the blade swing out.
‘Now, suppose I went and tied up the boy and let him watch as I cut up the girl, one stab at a time.’ She paled slightly. ‘What do you think would happen? Assuming I did that.’
‘He’d kill you.’
‘To accomplish what? She wouldn’t come back.’
‘We’re straying off the subject. What are you trying to prove here?’
‘Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale, has a rather interesting concept: the future of humans is to cast away their emotions. As a result, the main character, Cleric Preston, feels nothing when he sees his wife sentenced and executed. Instead, he forgets it, and moves on. The future is better because of that. There is no war, because there is no hate, no rage, and no reason for either. That proves the redundancy of love.’
‘So tell me, how would this world be then? A bleak, dark world. There is no trust, no feeling. There is nothing, except to live for the sake of living.’
‘Let me see,’ I said, rolling my eyes dramatically. ‘How do the wolves, tigers, bears, fishes conduct themselves? The males and females do their job for the propagation of the population, and then never see each other again. Or at least, never feel anything.’
‘Mankind evolved from those concepts.’
‘And now it’ll go back if the future is like that. A good solution.’
‘A stupid and totally unnecessary step. Emotions are what drive us. There would be no art-’
‘And no cause for any thefts inspired by the same,’  I interrupted.
‘No books, and thus no reason for fools like you, bibliophiles, to exist.’
‘If only that were so,’ I said, even more dramatically. ‘Then we’d have never met, and I’d never have to pay for your obscenely expensive coffee.’ She slammed the money on the table.
‘Alright, boy. Let me show you how deep anyone’s love for life is. Your life for your life. Your love for anyone’s life in this shop, and outside it.’
‘Why would I love anyone else-’ I began, but she stood up and gestured to the chaos of the traffic outside.
‘I am going to jump in-’
‘Don’t forget the bill.’
‘And you will follow me. You will grab my hand and pull me back. And then, maybe, I’ll kiss you.’ That did tempt me. She was something, all in all. She left, leaving the air tingling with a sense of finality. I rose, without understanding why, and followed her trail. She was waiting at the pavement, and a few yards off, I saw her boyfriend standing. He smiled when he saw her, and walked toward us with that arrogant walk I had always hated. That got me. Jealousy?
She smirked at me and closed her eyes. My breath tightened. God, she was serious. ‘Don’t do it,’ I told her, my fingers tingling of their own, and a feeling in the pit of my stomach arose, my heart pounding. Hormones raging. The boy saw what she was going to do, or at least he sensed it, when his walk lost its arrogance and gained speed. Everything froze around us...
Then she took the first step. My hand reached out, and she opened her eyes. Only a pull from my direction would save her from the honking truck that sped at eighty so close to the pavement.

That pull never came.
I only vaguely remember the shock in her vivid green eyes, to the accompaniment of her boyfriend’s leather boots which beat a staccato on the pavement. She tried to grab at me, to pull herself back, but I stepped back purposefully. That little step was enough to doom her, and in who knows how much of a second, she was propelled forward by the truck’s grille, into the afterlife.
The mangled body was found a good thirty feet away, tossed around for nearly fifteen seconds before the traffic jam took its effect. I looked at the second truck that stood before me, its predecessor now on its side a few metres away. The driver, a huge, bearded fellow, tapped the cigarette on the window frame and bent down to look at me. ‘Kya hua, boss?’ he asked in accented Hindi.
I shrugged, recalling my rather expensive bill lying on the table. ‘Pata nahi. Shayad se ek billi tyre ke nechi...’ I left the sentence unsaid. The man winced, then looked at the truck on its side. He shrugged and got out.
‘Nashta milega?’ He pointed at the coffee shop.
‘Arre, bolo mat. Is se achha hai vo highway ka dhaba, aur sasta bhi.’ He grinned at that, and nodded. I nodded in farewell, and went inside to settle the account. Everyone inside was staring at the window, at the traffic jam. I went to the counter, settled my bill. Halfway out of the shop, I remembered the book I was reading, still on my table, dog-eared where I had marked it. I ran a hand over the page, straightening the bent corner. It was Irving Stone’s ‘Lust for life.
*
When I'd first met Piya, what hit me was her vitality- her energy. It was infectious, and I hated it. For the better part of a semester I'd hung around with her- and Samir, her boyfriend with the leather shoes. He was still a chilled-out guy: weed, drinks and an adrenaline junkie. Piya was... well, she was Piya- open, warm, argumentative, with the sort of personality that'd turn sullen lil' me mad.
They were chance encounters- when we first met, our bills at Barista had been mixed up. Since the last time I met either of them, Barista holds bad memories for me every time I go.

Instant Fantasy #1: Lailah's People

Author's note: This is an experiment. I wanted to see what'd come up from a single word. Today's word is: Lailah. Not very fantastic, I know, but building a story is easy once you have some fixed base.
*
Lailah's People

In the grey depths of the seas lie the dark, mysterious cities of the Nagas. Half-human and half-snake, they were a quiet, studious people, preferring their ordered lives to the chaos of terran society. They never named their cities; except one.
In my scarlet shell, I descended to those murky depths, determined to unearth the secret behind this people, and their city. She had a name, this city: Lailah.
The city kept its vigil, unwavering. I don't know how it could, after so long; history says that its inhabitants left her alone, vacant, a shell, when their apocalypse came. Yet Lailah stood, in all her silent glory, a testament to the  skill of the Nagas. Seven leagues by five it stood, and three leagues deep into the floor, stretching as far as the eye could see. 
Its inhabitants? I counted those on the fingers of my left hand. There were five- 
One, the King of the Depths, old Skorn, larger than an island, stronger than any of his whale-kin; 
Two, the mysterious Senthane, an entity that, myth goes, settled here to pursue its arcane studies; 
Three, Quararzin, a half-sentient construct that stood in silent guard, a golden golem guarding the main gates;
Four, a voidal, a being from another time, another space- one who guards his privacy jealously, 'tis said;
And five, Zynn of Nine Fins; a creature of legend, an emperor of sharks; no one goes to his domain without paying heavy tribute - a tribute of life.
Out of them, I had no quarrel with Zynn, and he none with me if I did not go to his part of the city; Senthane went to great lengths to keep itself hidden; Quararzin would not harm me, if I did not harm his city; Skorn had ravaged three islands and now, the massive whale was ravaging a fourth. It was the Voidal I wanted to meet- I suspected his hand in the disappearance of Lailah's people.
Armed with my sturdy harpoon, her bolts in place, a book, and a pen to write in, and this submarine, with all its accoutrements, I declared myself ready.
The silent, helmed face of Quararzin, the golem, stared back at me. It was disconcerting, that unseen gaze; like all nagas, Quararzin had the upper body of a human, but below the waist, a snake's- and it was that body that curled all around the city's massive expanse as a protective wall, while he guarded the main gates, armed with a sword that, with its sheer size, could have cut mountains.
Remember- I am not talking about a simple, unliving statue of stone, but a golem, made of the strongest alloy- and it was sentient. Quararzin's gaze followed me into the gate, a tiny thing nestled in the folds of his tail. It remained open, and I knew I had the golem's blessing.
Now, all that remained was to explore the city. Her hands clasped in greeting, her tail curled around her, a statue of Lailah greeted me at the gate, and even in stone, her beauty, and regalness clear. I was a guest here, and Lailah would be, it seemed a gracious hostess.
As such, I bowed my head to her memory, and to that of those who'd built her, stone by uncounted stone, and let the submarine enter the city.
*
Details! Lots of details missing in the piece. 
1. The Nagas- a feature in my own novel (currently under development) a half-human, half-snake people who have seemingly abandoned their cities while the rest of their half-human brethren (wolves, minotaurs, centaurs, vampires, half-dragons, and whatever animal I can halve).
2. The main character- unnamed. A scientist hoping to uncover the disappearance behind the people of the seas. The Voidal, as I've already said, is the key to the mystery.
3. The Voidal- "There is a space between spaces, and it is the Void." - from one of my own characters. A Voidal is a powerful being from that... well, Void.
4. Golems- Golems are mechanical constructs given sentience, sometimes life and freedom of thought. Frankenstein is the most common example, although he may/may not be a golem, depending on the viewpoint. More famous is the 16th century golem made by Rabbi Loew who created a golem to defend Prague. 
In this case, the golem is actually both the city's defender and wall- imagine a huge snake with its tail in its mouth; now imagine a humanoid torso on that snake- and the city is encircled by its body. That's what the golem in the story is doing.
More to follow. Any details missed out, or any explanations needed, leave a comment.