Broken ArrowAh can you see what I see
Can you cut behind the mystery
I will meet you by the witness tree
Leave the whole world behind
~ Robbie Robertson
Kruger stared at the shards before him, it had been a sword once. He'd warned her that there was something wrong, but Aludariel challenged him. She never stopped challenging him. He hated it, the constant aggravation of having to prove anything he said was true. She ridiculed his delvings into the books that Elle left for him, the ones she'd made him study with the numbers and complex ways of putting them all together. The girl, for he'd come to realize that was what she was even if she were older than he by decades, managed to push him from his own home often. She healed quickly though, grew stronger everyday. He'd even taken her to his favorite swimming hole. There'd been no arguing that day, just the heat of the sun and a lot of splashing. She was like two different people sometimes.
He hated her. He missed her.
Three weeks he'd managed to keep the girl secret and safe. How was a mystery, surely his voice had carried all the way to the village. He didn't miss those self satisfied smirks she wore whenever she'd get under his skin, or the way she'd laugh when he was so angry that he couldn't form words. Except that her face was pretty when it smiled like that, and her laugh was almost musical. Sometimes it was like nothing had changed, the air moved through the cabin touching everything. He would still look up and expect to see her there pointedly ignoring his existence. It was almost like that, but there was no form on his bed, quickly looking away when he was about to speak. She dismissed him with a glance, and every time it happened he could only hear saying someone like you,
again. At least someone had been there, now he could only stand to be in the place when he needed somewhere to study.
His fingers traced the broken edges of elven forged steel. It was light, elegant and he'd known from the moment she'd first unsheathed the thing to practice that it didn't belong to her. He watched her, masking it in his splitting of fresh logs. She hadn't noticed, far too focused on the forms and practice. It was a trick of the light that had him thinking she would look his direction occasionally. Kruger kept his head down whenever his eyes were fooled that way. He obviously wasn't focusing enough on his own task. That frustrated him too, she didn't even have to pay attention to him and he was mad. At least there was some satisfaction that he hadn't noticed her stop. It was overshadowed by not knowing she'd moved close again. She didn't touch him, and it seemed like she took great pains to do so as little as possible. His next log appeared before him with her hands attached to it.
"I figured I should help you, because you'll never get done standing there gawking at me all day." Aludariel's lips formed that all too familiar smirk.
"Thank you." He didn't growl the words, he always talked that way. "Have you not had that sword long? I... there's just something off..."
"Do you doubt my skill?" There it was, he'd offended her. She stood with one hip jutting to the side, pointedly standing right in the swinging path of his ax.
Kruger gave a small sniff, maybe it wasn't so bad a feeling to get under her skin. He'd been watching her, no gawking, surely she didn't think that. He caught himself looking at her over emphasized hip, and jerked his eyes to her face. "Not at all. You've obviously trained very hard." He gave a noncommittal shrug. "There's just something not quite right."
"Oh, one of those. I'm a girl, so I should use a woman's weapon, like a bow." She turned in a huff, and started to storm towards the cabin. "Little boys shouldn't talk about things they know nothing about."
"Do I look like an idiot to you?" Her laugh convinced him that he never should have asked that question. "First of all, a bow is not a woman's weapon. Those who use them are extremely powerful through the shoulders and chest. You have nice.. You're just not that bulky." No, he was definitely digging himself deeper. If the stamp of her foot didn't say it, the flame infused look she shot at him over her shoulder did.
"Typical, you all seem to like your women to have powerful chests." Indignation, or was she hurt?
"It's too big for you. That sword, it wasn't made for you. Bring it here, and I'll show you what I mean." Kruger held his breath and counted the pounds of his heart in his chest while she decided if she were more upset, or curious. He was actually surprised when she turned around and came back to him.
"May I?" He held out his hands, palms facing the sky. She looked at them like they were beneath her, and Kruger gritted his teeth against the growl he felt coming. "Fine, just put your hand on the damn hilt!"
Aludariel's expression became even more dubious when he shouted at her. It was written in her eyes that she would make him regret it. That was probably true too. She complied, her distrust outweighed by her curiosity perhaps. Kruger reached out and pulled the sheath from the weapon, taking it with him. "If it's not too much to ask, just do what you were doing before." The head of the ax thunked its way into an unsplit log, and there it remained.
"Are you sure you're not just trying to look at my ass again?" Her smirk returned when his mouth opened and closed a few times. No, he hadn't been planning to, but now he wasn't sure he could keep his eyes off of it in order to watch what her hands were doing. Say something witty.
"No." Good job, that really got her.
His own internal voice was now being just as sarcastic with him as the she elf. "I mean! Ugh, you make it so hard to think around you." Kruger watched her smirk deepen, and the delicate arc of an eyebrow. "Can we just do this?"
"Boys who try to go too fast get nowhere, but at least they do it quickly." Aludariel said the words over her shoulder, her lithe body swaying gracefully back to where she'd been practicing earlier.He hadn't asked her to, but maybe she just felt more comfortable there.
Kruger's eyes were now drawn to exactly the place she'd accused him of wanting to see. "If you don't want me looking, then why do you walk that way?" He said the words under his breath, but the snicker which came from her said she'd heard anyway.
She was still laughing when she began to move through the forms. Aludariel was so quick on the transition between offense and defense, that Kruger could barely see the path of the weapon she wielded. He wasn't looking at the sword though, his attention was focused on her, or more specifically, her hands. "Stop! Don't move, not until you tell me what you're trying to do with that outside hand at least."
Kruger stood and made his way across to her. He grabbed her lower hand, despite knowing that she didn't like to be touched, or maybe just touched by him. "There, right there. What are you doing?"
"I'm moving for a two handed strike, obviously." She wasn't breathing hard, but beads of sweat were forming across her skin. She was probably doing that on purpose too, anything to distract him from what he was trying to say.
"There's only one problem. That isn't a two handed sword, you just have small hands." To emphasize his point, he put his hand over hers to show her how much better the hilt would fall into his grip. "Someone my size I think, or maybe a little taller." That fit a large number of people really. "I may not know half the things you do, but there are some things I know better. If you were to ask me for a weapon, I'd never suggest that for you."
"It's none of your business, but yes it belonged to my father." There was enough heat in her words that he thought she'd try to pull away from him. Maybe she forgot to try?
"May I please hold it for a few minutes? I never bothered to look at it before." He'd had almost no interest in it until his discovery that Aludariel was an elf. He'd wanted to ask, but things kept getting in the way. He wouldn't see it so closely again for days.
She gave him the weapon, letting him take it into the sun to get an even better look. That of course would only be the beginning. There were things that couldn't be seen, layers to the metal that were impenetrable, unless you could hear them the way he did. His fingernail flicked the flat of the blade, setting it to vibrating. That was when he knew there was a problem. A fissure had opened up in the depths of the metal. It ran nearly half the length of the blade from the hilt. "What have you been hitting with this? It needs work, there's something wrong inside of it. I can fix it, and leave those interesting little spells in place too."
Aludariel bristled at the words, accusing him of trying to demean the work of elvish smiths because he was racist, or perhaps just jealous. "Fine, when it breaks, and it will break Audariel, I may not be able to repair it. I promise, that at the least I won't say I told you so."
She wouldn't talk to him for another hour, which in itself was kind of a victory. Normally it would take him leaving to work the forge at night and returning before she was ready to acknowledge that he existed. Even that really happened by accident. Kruger had done a good job of never being shirtless in front of her. Even when they'd been swimming, he wore some kind of shirt no matter how odd she thought him for it. He wasn't even really clear why he did that, it had never mattered with anyone else. He'd left her outside, looking at her sword as though she might see what he was talking about. There should have been time for a quick bath, just enough to cool the skin and chase away the scent of his efforts with the wood pile. He'd just began to pull it away from him when she walked through the door. He'd pulled it back into place, but not before she'd seen a hint of the mess on his back.
"You're not that shy at the forge." She was using the soft voice again, the one that made him want to do things for her. He bit his lip, and grabbed the edge of the table in his hands trying to drive that urge from him.
"You've been spying on me?" He caught her wince as he looked over his shoulder at her. Maybe he'd used the wrong word, but that's how it felt.
"I needed to know more about the person who had me in their power. I don't know why you let that man talk to you the way he does. You don't let me." She was moving, at least this time he had her in sight. There was no surprise when her hand found the hem of his shirt and lifted it upwards. "Off with it, you stink."
Even with the laugh at what had become an odd joke to them, it took everything Kruger had not to flinch at the light touch on his torso. He could barely breathe as the pads of her fingers traced the interlocking scars on his skin. "Did you need me to leave, so you can freshen up?" He could do his bathing in the river, where the water would be blessedly cold. Water fell into the basin he'd prepared, squeezed from the cloth he'd planned to use.
"What are you doing?" His question was answered silently, as the warm cloth fell onto his shoulder.
"Tell me about this." Aludariel hadn't answered his question at all. Sometimes it was like he wasn't even speaking to her. It did present him with an opportunity, though.
"I'll tell you, but knowing has a price. You haven't told me what happened to you, or even why you're here." The nearest elvish lands were as far away from here as his home had been. Her nod was a surprise, but a good one. He talked, answering her questions felt like the only way he could distract himself from the feel of her fingers. It felt good, and that scared him. Nothing that felt good ever lasted, he'd find some way to mess it up. It felt good to talk too, he'd never done that, not even with Elle. In his defense, Elle had been there to see it. She'd have listened, if he'd have talked to her.
Kruger didn't look at her as he talked, certain that he'd lose the little bit of control he had over his feelings. It was like the girl was trying to wash away the memories, a thought that barely made sense to him. He was sure she'd laugh at it, even more sure that it would make her quit, something that happened all too soon anyway. It was her turn anyway. The cloth was left in the basin, he went to find another shirt, listening to her quietly.
She told him about the Northern nation of half men. Not like Kruger's parents, but men who were even more alien and decidedly aggressive. That they were massing for what seemed like a push to the south through her homeland. The band she was part of seeking alliances, and how they'd been caught by these half men, and the shadow creature that seemed to be driving them into their frenzy. How it had withstood multiple strikes from her and left her for dead. The band splintered, but she'd managed to crawl to the place he'd found her. She knew Elle, had been sent from Georg to deliver a message, one that no longer mattered since the woman was dead. "It explains why there's been no word."
It had been the most words she'd strung together at once since he'd found her. He could have gotten lost in the sound of her voice when it wasn't being acerbic. It wouldn't last, already the sky was starting to darken. He'd leave soon to fulfill his duties, and she'd do whatever she did while he was gone. Much of the time it seemed to be pouring over the handwritten notes from the cabin's previous occupant. He didn't know what he thought about that. He'd been unable to force himself to do the same, even though there was no one who would stop him. For him it was enough to keep to the schedule she'd set for him. Learn as much as he could, something made more difficult without her there to ask questions when he got stuck.
Reluctantly he made ready to go, thinking that perhaps she was going to come with him as he stepped outside. He'd been just about to ask that when Aris shot out off the trees, a red and white blur that drew his attention half a moment before the forest became alive with movement. Twelve figures emerged from the forest, running to engage the two of them. If it hadn't been for a hail of arrows the men, half men Kruger could see it now, would have had them. If he were forced to choose, he'd have said half lion, what skin was visible beneath their armor was coated with velvety fur. It wasn't quite the right color though, and he couldn't really see their faces well, just enough to note that their teeth were more predator than anything else. They varied in size, but one thing they all had in common was they were powerfully made. He only had a moment to take in those details, behind the dozen or so corpses that now littered his front yard an immense armored creature rose. It materialized out of the shadows, and though it was at the mercy of another barrage of arrows, they simply bounced off of the thing doing no damage.
Aludariel reacted first, she was so fast he could have marveled at her for hours. The sheath came away from the weapon that wasn't really hers, and she moved to face the dark armored knight. She shot in low, avoiding the things sword though he could see how her injury slowed her. Quick as she was, her weapon was even faster. She was moving at twice the speed she'd practiced, her sword ringing down and doing as much damage to the thing as the arrows had. The archers appeared, four tall elves, all of them racing in order to distract the thing from her. It was good that they had, because the thing brought down its massive sword at Aludariel's well timed parry. Her sword shattered at the impact, leaving her armorless and at the mercy of the thing.
It had only been heartbeats, but Kruger saw that and charged for the creature. "Boy!" A shout from the side caught his attention. The voice was Grimm's, looking up saved Kruger's life. The big smith had heaved an ax, it's handle whirling around the head like some strange sort of solar system. With less than a second to react to this new intrusion, Kruger's hands reached to accept the handle from the air and started his own deadly spin. The ax's head, once the center of its own galaxy was pulled out of it with all the force he could muster in his body. He angled the cutting edge upward toward the unprotected underarm of the black armored knight, realizing that the weapon he was wielding wasn't a weapon at all unless of course you were a log that needed to be split.
An unearthly shriek filled the air as the ax head bit deep into... nothing. There was nothing holding the armor together. A pauldron, complete with rebrace, vambrace and gauntlet ripped loose from the thing. They hit the ground with a hollow clatter and promptly pulled themselves apart, returning to the shadow from which they'd arisen. The entire creature was being pulled apart in the same way, lucky for Kruger as the handle in his hand was now headless. The wood had splintered leaving shivers of it on the grass and everyone looking at him. He put his hand out to Aludariel, who had dropped to the ground in an attempt to avoid the sword that never fell. She took it, but the moment she was on her feet she ran to embrace one of the elves leaving Kruger to watch silently.
"Val... I thought you were gone, all of you. You wouldn't believe the things I've had to endure." The embrace was returned. Val was tall, though Grimm stood well over him. It hurt to watch, Kruger averted his eyes, moving to the bits of metal that once were a sword. Of the ax head there was no sign. It was as gone as the armored nothing.
The pieces were gathered, and quickly delved by Kruger. He saw her feet then, refused look up at her even when she put her hand to his head. "I can still fix it." He projected more confidence than he really had over the matter.
"Impossible, there's no coming back from that." The voice was new, and could only belong to Val.
"Captain Raakshas, if the boy says he can fix it. He can." Kruger would never have expected to hear that from Grimm. It pulled his attention from Aludariel's legs and to the disapproving look on the big smith's face. Whether that was aimed at him, or the elf was a mystery.
"And the cost?" Valerian Raakshas, Captain to the guard of Aludariel, Wind cutter, and Ban-iarla to the high court cut right to the crux of the matter. Still, Kruger knew that the blade had belonged to her father. He also knew that no one would even attempt to put it back together if he didn't.
"Job like that, it's gonna co..." Grimm knew too, exactly what it was that Kruger was offering to do. He needed to stop the man.
"Take me with you." He didn't look at either man as he spoke, his eyes were on Aludariel's face. "Take me with you and I'll make it whole again. I'll make it yours." His eyes pleaded with her in a way he'd never be able to bring his mouth to say.
There was silence, other than the grumbling of Grimm beneath his breath. "How long will it take you?" Her voice had an edge, he knew it wasn't for him, not this time. She spoke so that the others could have no say in the matter.
Kruger looked at the shattered remnants in his hands. "A month, no more than that."
"I'm sorry, we can't wait a month. I have to travel North to visit the tower. We'll be leaving today." Kruger wished she'd just reached into his chest, and pulled out his heart. It was still true, things that felt good did not last.
"Be sure that both it, and you are ready when I return!" Her voice was hard, commanding, but the touch of her fingers on his broken cheek belied tenderness. Two different people, in one confusing package.
They'd left even before the sun had sunk beneath the horizon. Aludariel had taken his best shirt, itchy or not she needed something and wasn't willing to stop. He wouldn't discover until much later that she'd taken another for herself, though what she could want with the soiled one she'd forced him to remove he had no idea. There were fresh ones in the little dresser. She'd let him sense her for a couple of hours, something he knew she could have stopped whenever she chose. In fact, one moment she was there, and the next he couldn't see her. He could still see Valerian and the other three. He could even see that they still rode in a configuration that surrounded her protectively. It was perhaps, her final little laugh at him. Now, she was three days gone, and he was trying to figure out how to remake her sword before she returned.