Author Topic: I Am Shale  (Read 1417 times)

Kruger

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Re: I Am Shale
« Reply #15 on: March 26, 2017, 08:17:09 PM »
One Last Breath

It seems I found the road to nowhere
And I'm trying to escape
~ Creed

---------------------------------------------

"You can't make it what it was, even the original smith couldn't really do that. Repeat a process, come close, but there's no going back, not to what it was. No going back for you either. Think about it that way boy. Can you remake the kid who I picked up all those years ago? You know the answer. It's not too late to change your mind, give me the sword. Let me do the work, but it means staying." There was wisdom in Grimm's words, the only problem with that was it was wrapped around a malevolence and designed to do nothing more than hurt. He was right though, Kruger couldn't make it what it was.

He'd spent the past two hours talking to the shards, feeling its life from the birth of the universe to the moment it shattered. He heard every word that its maker said while crafting it. He could, as Grimm had said, make it close to what it was. But his master didn't know something very important. Kruger hadn't promised to make it what it was. He'd promised to make it Auldariel's, that in itself would require change. Sad as it might be, the boy who arrived here could never accomplish what he was about to do.

"You need to leave now, this is my test. A month, ask yourself if you want me to succeed or fail. I'm not really sure you know right now." Technically less than a month, but he'd make it work. He'd isolated himself from the forge. Grimm was right, what he was about to do was dangerous. Men had been killed by the exploding remnants of those command words. There was a cave large enough to suit his needs, it had been a matter of moving the equipment he needed. A good smith makes his own tools, and that had been much of his work over the years. An additional anvil, the hammers and tongs, chisels, cutters, whatever he needed he made. This was how apprenticeship was supposed to work. One became two working in tandem, and then one moved on. There was supposed to be love though, a mutual respect. Perhaps it was that lack which had him testing out a little early. More likely it was that Kruger saw Aludariel as his last chance to get out alive, even if watching her cling to her guard captain killed him inside.

Grimm's footfalls echoed through the chamber. "Of course I want you to succeed, boy. It'll be a relief not to have you draining away my profits."

Kruger didn't react to his words, he was feeling calm, centered as he stood there listening to the sounds of droplets striking the floor in measured beats. The fire had been his initial concern, finding a place where it could use the airflow as a natural chimney that would pull the smoke from the chamber. From there, setting up the rest was a simple matter. Time was not on his side, but alone he could make up for it. Without the worry of being interrupted he could do what needed doing, but he needed to begin... now.

His circle came alive, if nothing else it would prevent anything from escaping that would do harm on a wider scale. Kruger hummed to himself, a guttural vibration that rebounded from the walls and back upon him in a whirling maelstrom of sound broken only by the drip drip drop of water. Even that became part of the wordless song. Wordless to any save the earth itself. The intonations pushed deep into the shards of metal, caressing every layer of it as he used the vibrations to pull apart the incantations that remained whole within. Where that wasn't enough he added heat, the burning coals conducting their strength into his weaving and shaking the very foundations on which the sword had been created. The marriage of two elements proving more than the enchantments could endure, no matter how intricate they were leaving just the metal, the heat, and the smith.

His song changed as he began to fold the metal in upon itself. A natural thing, one that he may have been able to avoid. He didn't want to, Kruger remembered. He remembered every moment spent with the dark haired woman who so frustrated his emotions. The acid of her tongue, and the heat in her touch and he ached to know them both again. He could never know enough, and would endure so much more for just a sliver of information. She'd given herself to him, briefly, enough to leave him long for just the barest hint of her, even the most subtle of movements would be enough for him to latch onto. If only he could just perceive it.

Time was not on his side, and she was not there to make him feel foolish and angry. But he was anyway, a different sort of anger that set his blood on fire. She'd made him care, made him crave the being near her. She'd made him burn with thoughts that he'd never give voice to, the rivulets of sweat that built and rolled down his back a taunting reminder of what it felt like to be touched. The desire to be, even knowing that for him there could be no such thing. She'd made him forget for a time that it had to be this way, then ripped it from him with a single embrace not meant for him. She constantly gave to him, knowing that she planned to take it when he would begin to depend on it. Why couldn't he see? He ought to be able to see it, but he was too slow, or Aludariel was too fast. Kruger's song of unmaking, the thing that had pulverized the archaic devices entrenched into the metal had become a lament, for her as much as for him. Still he worked, never noticing time or the coming and going of Day li'en as she left food for him.

Slowly, painstakingly precise in his actions, every scattered bit of the original was worked back into a whole, though the block of tightly compressed metal before him was still a long way from where it needed to be. Only then did he pause, his body weary, his stomach arguing loudly with him. He released the circle, it would be called back soon enough, but the block was shoved deep into the embers of the forge. Burnt bits of carbon adhered themselves to it. Earth and fire forging a bond both hot and needy. Kruger missed the sound of her voice, and the sting of her gaze. Three bowls had been placed, it was the only way he could tell time. Three more days gone, and the sky outside black as pitch. He was grateful for the offerings, hard bread made edible by cold broth. Day had chosen wisely, a dish to fill his stomach and replenish his fluids. It wasn't enough, but it would have to do.

Sleep called to his body, too bad his mind wouldn't let it come. Slumber could wait, the work would not, or maybe it would have but he couldn't stop himself from calling up the circle one corner at a time. As above, so below, and one weary smith caught in the center lost to the mental battle of what could be and what was simply wishful thinking. Please come now, I think I'm falling. I'm holding on to all I think is safe. Loss and gain were ever changing in his world. The words in his mind were a plea, even as the bellows blew new life into the fire, and his hammer began to work once more. Who did he need so badly? He clung to what he believed was safe to do so. The promise of finally moving on, but that wasn't who he wanted to come. There was only one person he trusted enough to tell him it would be safe. And she couldn't come, even if it did suddenly feel like she was there steeling his resolve as she pumped energy into his body.

It was just another time when he should have seen the truth and failed. His life up to this moment had been full of that. Surely he wasn't alone in that? Blind faith, trust that he'd find his way through the mire of thorns and claws that tore at his skin. He'd come through, but the passage of that path was there for all to see. He could see something ahead though, salvation, and it rested in one person, if only he were strong enough to forge ahead and bask in the light. Everything he was or would be, every thought and feeling he'd ever known. All of his wants and needs were absorbed into this making, and there at the very center was Aludariel. If only she could see just a little clearer the way his blood burned.

Turn, fold, hammer, heat, and Kruger lost track of the words to his song, if ever it had any words beyond the intensity he felt in his chest. What the sword had been would never be enough, not for Aludariel. Grimm was right that this could never be what it was, but he was wrong in believing that because of that it must be less. He didn't understand the maker, and he didn't know the client in the way that Kruger saw her. She was so sharp on the outside, but inside there was something more, a softer core that kept her from breaking. It absorbed impacts in a way that her father's sword never would no matter how many enchantments were woven through it. Her sword should be no different, not if it were to be part of her.

He married the materials together, the anvil before him was the altar that would bind. He worked, never remembering feeling fatigue or hunger. He knew he ate, that he drank because the bowls were always empty when he checked on them. The blade grew, its length becoming equal to that which it had been, with one stark difference. The length of the tang was significantly longer. She needed that, and he was committed to giving her what she needed. There was still something not quite right though. Something that Kruger would impart very soon. He painted the cutting edge with a mud like clay, once more in his head he heard his litany. I Am Shale. Mud in the mortar, did painting out the Hamon qualify? He wanted to ask his mother, but she was still dead in this place.

It was dark in the cave, but Kruger raised a curtain across the entrance making it even darker. He needed to watch the steel because only its color would tell him when it was ready. When it hit the brine it hissed, yet beneath the water's surface the blade cooled and curved. Grimm would say the quench is when it received its soul, what soul had he given it? The length of blade he pulled from the quench was looked at, and maybe it did remind him of her a little, she was all graceful curves and hard edge.

It was far from done, ten days more he spent on it polishing and engraving the weapon. At first he'd been at a loss what he would put there. An accident with the edge told him what it needed to be. Careful as he tried to be, he cut the pad of his finger in the polishing process. It wasn't uncommon, however the way the droplet boiled and smoked across the weapons surface was. The red boiled away like it had never been. Dragons were pretty common, even the elongated eastern influenced one he'd used was often seen. That didn't make it any less impressive to look at. The hilt was going to be the real problem. He'd known that it wouldn't fit, that wasn't his real concern. If she expected to get the sword back with the cross guard and hilt she would be disappointed. Kruger fashioned a disk shaped tsuba, engraved to match the horimono. He'd created it from the original cross hilt, and then beaten the pommel into the shape of a dragon's head to use as both kashira and menuki. The wrap had been easy to come by. Tradition would have used shark or ray skin. Kruger went with whatever leather had once been Aludariel's armor. It was creamy and far more supple than any cow or horse hide he'd ever seen. Who knew what Elves could come up with. A pair of clear gems were placed in the eye sockets of the dragon head that graced the end of the hilt. Worthless things really, something he'd found among Elle's things meant for costume jewelry.

He let the fire die in the temporary forge, taking his creation back to the village to his master for judgement. It was still early, the birds not even beginning their songs. He didn't remember falling asleep in the forge, but there he was in his old sleeping place looking up at Grimm as he inspected the weapon Kruger had created.

"You do good work boy." Grimm was talking to him, but he hadn't done more than open his eyes. What had given him away? "Still a bit artsy for my taste, but I'd say even the elf bitch will be impressed by this."

Kruger could feel something growing inside of him, a deep loathing of the man that he'd always known was there but never felt quite like this. "She's not a bitch!"

"Relax boy. It's a shame this has to go to someone like her. It means nothing good for the clan." Grimm didn't get what he wanted, Kruger was anything but relaxed.

"I don't think the clan is worried about a single sword." He was pushing himself to his feet, it took a lot of effort. Every muscle in his body protested at movement.

"One, no, a hundred, a thousand such weapons. The clan has good reason to be worried." Grimm slid the sword back into its sheath. "I'd be doing them a service to kill you, rather than let you go."

So much for promises, and tradition. "You know that no matter how hard you chase that pretty elvish tail, she will never want you. No, unlike the sword you made, you are not beautiful enough. Not like that stunning captain of hers. You could see it, right? Do you think he welcomed her back with a sword of his own? Did she as eagerly accept it from him?"

"Bastard!" The fatigue of his body was replaced by shaking rage. Kruger started across the forge, fists locked so tightly he wasn't sure he'd ever straighten his fingers again. It was exactly what Grimm wanted. He'd baited Kruger into action, so that he would be justified.

Surprise crossed his features as one of those fists landed hard on Grimm's cheek. Kruger had been on the other end, and much like learning the forge techniques, he'd studied this too the hard way. The big man went over, and Kruger was on top of him, just another technique that Grimm had instilled in him. For a moment he believed he was going to overwhelm his forge master. Then the side of his head felt like it was hit with a hammer blow. Grimm's massive fingers were curled around a heavy ingot its edge still holding strands of hair and sticky blood. He looked like he was tempted to simply cave in Kruger's skull. That wouldn't be personal enough. Those big hands locked around his throat and began to squeeze. Kruger couldn't breathe, his blows had nothing behind them now and there was a look of insane glee on the bigger smith.

"Take your hands from him, or I will end you!" A hint of gracefully curved, polished steel peeked from beneath Grimm's beard. The hard edged voice was one he knew, one he wasn't sure he'd ever hear again. Aludariel's eyes were dark and murderous, there was a faint hiss coming from the space where Grimm's neck met the edge of the blade she held. His grip loosened, those hands releasing him and leaving him to choke in air. The weight of Grimm was the next thing to go.

"Get up, Nicovală. It's time to leave this place." In the door stood Valerian, his hands holding a drawn bow aimed at the large red bearded smith. Kruger rose, keeping out of firing line of the tall elf. Aludariel put herself between him and Grimm, a lithe movement putting the tip of the sword to the sheath and sending it home. Strange how those clear gems looked like they were glowing red. A second look at the sword hilt in its sheath confirmed that they were indeed still just clear. "Keep him here until we're gone. We'll meet you in the arranged place."

"But..." Valerian began, but she wasn't in the mood for arguing.

"Do as I say. We need a day to get him ready to travel. No I don't need you to watch over me." No nonsense, no room for Val to wiggle free. He nodded curtly, though he never took his gaze from Grimm.

The little cabin was a welcomed sight, Kruger hadn't believed they would be there together again. He didn't know what he'd expected, but was sure that wasn't it. Especially not with him bleeding and leaning on her. He was just so tired.

"Do you mind telling me what that was about?" Aludariel's hands washed the blood from his scalp. She spoke soothingly, even if her face said she was more than angry.

"It was about you, and me leaving here. I think he wanted to make something happen. The things he said, no one can say that abo..." Her hand pressed hard against his head, cutting off his words almost as well as the point where her mouth met his.

"You are a silly boy, and I don't know why I missed you, but I did." There was something more in her face now. Something that Kruger had never seen before, but the intensity of that look had him pulling her to him as he'd often thought of doing.

--------------------------

They'd gotten started far later than she'd said. The morning was spent exploring her in ways he'd only dreamt of. He would have spent the rest of his life doing that, but there was too much that needed to be done. She purchased a horse for him, a huge Shire Horse named Millie that he knew well enough. That didn't stop the normally docile horse from biting him. It had to be big, it would need to carry his equipment. She was one of the biggest in the village, her back was laden with everything he planned to take with him. With the exception of the forge equipment, he took little from the cabin. The box with the hairbrush and mirror was tucked away safely, a few spare sets of clothes, and a medallion that he'd created a long time ago. There were some books, Elle's journal among them. One day he might decide it was okay for him to read it.

Dusk was coming on when they were fully packed and ready to move. "There's one more thing I need to do. Will you come with me?" He needed her to come, because part of him was afraid that if she didn't, this entire day would turn out to be some twisted dream. He smiled with relief at her nod.

They skirted the town, going straight to the river and following it south. That was the opposite direction they were meant to be going. The sky, once blue had developed a grey green cloud cover. The wind had picked up as well, and there were rumblings of thunder coming from the west. Kruger led onwards, the high tower of stone in the rivers center growing larger as time went on. Even as the sky darkened it loomed over them. It jutted almost straight upwards from a small island. That was something that couldn't be seen from the village. It was enough for the horses to take a few dry steps, and graze on the tufts of grass that adorned it.

Kruger slid from his saddle, rummaged a bit in his saddlebag and moved to the base of the obelisk. Aludariel followed him curiously, he could feel her watching as he put his hand on the stone. He looked at her for a moment, and smiled embarrassedly. Turning back to the stone he placed his forehead against the surface. "I never got to thank you, for loaning me your name. I'm afraid I still need it, though. But maybe you'll accept mine as a temporary trade?"

He could tell by the look on Aludariel's face that she had no idea what he'd said. That was fine, he wasn't so sure she'd understand even if he weren't speaking the language of the stones. He needed to let it know how important it had been to him since he'd first seen it. It was the only thing left that he felt he owed that to. The detour would put them into the elves camp long after midnight. The storm had been powerful, and brief. On the way there the stone tower had been struck more than once by the lightning, there it still stood though as the clouds began to part, and the light of the two moons illuminated everything.

Valerian had seen their ascent, the little camp was nearly completely packed up when they rode in. "What do you think it means?" The question hadn't been addressed to Kruger, just one of the three guards querying curiously over something he saw. Kruger's eyes followed the elf's gaze.

"It means... I win." Even from here it could be seen, the thing he'd needed to do. He looked at Aludariel, and tried to smile as he turned his back on the obelisk whose top now read in immense letters one word above another.

    I
  Am
Shale
« Last Edit: August 08, 2019, 10:54:48 AM by Kruger »

Kruger

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Re: I Am Shale
« Reply #16 on: March 29, 2017, 09:02:57 PM »
Epilogue

No Leaf Clover

Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel
Is just the freight train coming your way......
It's coming your way
It's coming your way......
Here comes
~ Metallica


Life had grown complicated, he hadn't realized it as it was happening. Somewhere across the years it was no longer possible just to pick up and go, but go is exactly what Kruger had to do. If it were simply for him, he'd never consider it. It wasn't for him though, the small hand in his belonged to Nikolai. If not for him, Kruger wouldn't have left his business behind, wouldn't have said goodbye to friends. He'd have stayed where he belonged, continued in his semi-complicated existence. The boy wore his curse. It wasn't something visible. To anyone looking, Niko was just a beautiful little boy with dark expressive eyes and a penchant for getting into scrapes. Only a few had seen the fevers come on, and known them to be unnatural. An accident of breeding, an ability so thoroughly blocked that Kruger worried the boy would one day burn himself up. It wasn't his fault, and for a brief time he'd been able to help Nikolai through them. He understood fire, and all of its wants boiled down to one thing, it wanted to consume everything until there was nothing left. Much as he didn't want to be here, Nikolai was far more important to him.

The gangway thudded to the dock, Kruger and Niko started for it, the former hitching his pack a little higher on his shoulder. Down river the stone obelisk still stood, as did the carving he'd done so many years ago. He'd had to read the words for Niko, and when asked simply say he guessed it was someone's name. The red bearded captain met them on the dock, stopping their progress. "We leave tonight, just before the sun sets. Should I reserve space for you?"

"Ready space for three, but at this point I'd expect only two." Kruger started to push past the man, when he felt the captain's hand on his forearm.

"I thought... well with you coming back here with your boy, that you'd be returning alone." His eyes searched Kruger's face. It had taken him several days before he could let his eyes linger there.

"After what I went through here, why would you ever believe that I'd leave my son behind?" Kruger tightened his grip on Nikolai, as though someone would come by and try to take the boy right from his grasp.

"Things are different, people are different. You'll see." The captain released him, when Kruger turned a heated gaze toward him.

"Am I supposed to believe the man who betrayed me first, Petra? For days you lied to me." Petra had the decency to look like he'd been slapped.

"You weren't clan then... now..." He stopped, when the heated gaze of Kruger turned menacing.

"What, Petra? What am I now?" Kruger switched hands with Niko and shouldered his way past the raider captain and stalked his way down the dock doing his best to not, in his anger, make it hard for Nikolai to keep up. His senses weren't anything like the first time he'd come to Glanchester. Knowledge had costs, and one of those had been his free communing with the elements. He was sure he'd heard Petra utter the word, scary.

It was a fair trade, because within the forge they were all still there. Quite honestly, he didn't miss it the rest of the time. It had gone gradually, a gift of sorts, he could only imagine what his state would have been if everything were suddenly silent. Petra had said things were different, here and there it was true, but more was still the same. Another lie from the man wouldn't have surprised the smith, and at this point he didn't care. He remembered enough to know where things, and places were. Kruger pulled his hood up over his head far enough to hide his face in shadow before pushing through a door.

The New Road, restaurant had been here before Kruger had first come to the village. Where it stood had once been the new road, but now it was simply an old road with other old roads intersecting it here and there. The front window was still clean enough to be almost invisible, the tables were still thick hardwood stained dark, and benches instead of chairs ran along each side of them. He shuffled Niko into a table, letting him have the window to look out. There was nothing out there he wanted to see anyway.

Their entrance hadn't gone unnoticed. It was more like open looks and low murmurs to leaned heads. A tall, yet pleasantly plump, woman stepped to their table and gave Niko a little wave. "Hi there cutey."

Nikolai of course preened at the attention. The strawberry blonde woman wasn't unattractive. Kruger might have found her more so if he didn't remember how she used to curl her fingers into warding gestures whenever he was close by. "Welcome to The New Road, I'm Zarah..." Yes that was her name, the proprietor's niece. Then again everyone was related round here. "...and I'll be your server. May I suggest our special today? I can read them to you if you'd like."

Kruger shook his head beneath his hood. "No... just if Nisha's back there, tell her I need two of her backdoor stews, and a bit of hard bread for one of them. Get the boy a big glass of milk too. I'll just stick with water." He could feel her scrutiny now. It was all he could do to stay expressionless. "And Zarah, one more thing. Could you have her bring it out. I always pay a little more for the trouble."

Zarah waited a few moments, like she wanted to say something but couldn't find the nerve. Her departure only served to bring more looks. The woman didn't simply walk away, and go to the kitchen. She backed a couple of small steps, then moved hurriedly towards the swinging door. Nisha was not short, though Zarah had a few inches on her. But where Zarah was pleasantly plump, Nisha was all woman, and all business too. She practically stormed from the kitchen making her way straight towards Kruger and Niko, and daring anyone to stand in her way.

She stood at the end of the table and wrapped it hard, directly in front of Kruger. "Look here mister, if you want backdoor stew, then you ought to be at the back door. I'm only obliging this because of the boy, an how nasty it is outside. An I ain't carryin' no food for you, I'm too old, and carried more'n my share to folks like you! And jokin' bout payin' extra ain't funny... no sir it ain't funny at all."

Backdoor stew, that's what it was called. In reality, it was what was left at the end of the day. Nisha would set the pot outside the back door for those who were having problems, and too proud to say it. For Kruger it was something else, he'd not been able to come and dine inside. Nisha would always slip him a little hard bread to go with it. "Maybe you've a hinge to mend, I hear a powerful squeak coming from that door of yours." Especially if he managed to fix something while he ate.

If any of the patrons had been subtle before, Nisha's tirade had drawn every gaze quite openly. It had also silenced the entire place. Her hand went to his hood and pulled it roughly from his head. Kruger tried to avert his gaze from her, but her meaty fingers grasped his chin and tugged his head around. The brand becoming visible to her, and anyone on that side of his face. Dishes hit the floor, Zarah was one of those with the clearest view which unfortunately meant that their meal was now littering the dining room floor. Nisha wasn't far behind, though she didn't hit the floor. She sank slowly to the bench, looking weak and suddenly silent. Her eyes drifted from Kruger, to Nikolai.

"I see it now, I surely do. Zarah! Hurrah up an get that cleaned, then get these two... Oh never you mind, I'll get it myself, don't be asking for help to get that up neither." She started to push her way to her feet when Niko reached over and tugged at her sleeve.

Nisha's eyes went round as saucers. "Escuse me... Lady Nissa. I'll help you carry, because I am big now, and if you carry for my da. I'll carry for me... since I don't eat so big of stuff as he does."

"Lady Nisha, am I now? I do not let strangers into my kitchen, no matter how knightly." Nisha regarded Nikolai shrewdly.

"I am Nikolai Aristotle Vevea-Allen. You are lady Neeesha." He sounded out the woman's name, giving her a questioning look, then the brightest of grins when she nodded. "You should call me Niko, because my friens call me Niko, and my ma an da. An if you do! Then we're friens, not strangers, an I can help!"

There was logic, and then there was Nikolai logic. It was flawed, and if put to it would fall apart. Perhaps she knew that to do so would break his heart. Maybe she couldn't stomach doing that, because she relented. Niko jumped up to stand on the bench, his little bottom doing a boogy dance as he hissed out the word. "Yessss!" He jumped from the bench, and hurried around to Nisha grabbing hold of her hand and skipping along beside her, looking up and starting off in a Niko chatter barrage.

On the way, Nisha leaned over and whispered to a man who abruptly left. The rumor mill had begun, but Georg would hear that he was here. He'd come, or Kruger would go to him. In the meantime, there was food. Nikolai carefully carrying a plate of something that was definitely not backdoor stew. There were purple streaks at the corners of his mouth and a look like he had a secret he wasn't supposed to tell. His voice carried above the din that had risen once more in the wake of discovery.

"But my stister says that I'm gonna be awfulensibly purdy when I grow up. Which sounds okay, but purdy is for girls. She's not my borned stister. Me an da found her in a house on the beach and dopted her. She's so tall, an purdy, and people make pictures of her in nice clothes doing things like..." Nikolai's little body twisted and bent, and he looked back over his shoulder and Nisha and did his best to wink and bite his lip at the same time, but couldn't quite get the two to happen together. The sight just made Nisha burst into a fit of laughter.

Niko wrestled his plate onto the table, then stood up and hugged Kruger, whispering to him. "I'm not sposeta tell you, but I had pie."

-----------------------------

It almost wasn't fair watching Nikolai as he slowly wound the indomitable Nisha intricately around his finger. The boy didn't do it intentionally. He was himself, and it just happened. Kruger's mouth tipped upward at the corners with pride even if it felt jaded by his own experiences in this place. The bubble burst abruptly, Georg had returned home rather than venture to The New Road. Sure he'd given word that Kruger and Niko should go there. The smith couldn't help but feel it was just another slap to his face, especially when he'd been told where to find Georg's place.

Niko had done his hop step along the path, tugging at Kruger's hand every now and again, like he knew where he was going. Kruger knew, he stood outside a door he'd been through a thousand times. There was an excited jerk to his arm. A look to his son showed him pointing towards the edge of the forest.

"Da! A fox!" He'd seen them before, Niko got excited anytime he saw wild animals. "It's so close! I bet I could get closer to it!"

"Aris?" Wishful thinking surely. Foxes didn't live this long, but maybe some offspring of offspring? Still the animal took a few slow steps forward, nose working in their direction. It's ears twisted ever so slightly one direction and another. He got to his knees, holding his arms out as he'd done many times when Elle was still alive. The fox moved in short bursts, pausing and taking a few more steps. Niko was getting over excited, and Kruger had to give him calming shushes, telling him to wait and see. The animal's nose touched Kruger's arm, it's head was kept low promising a good bite if this was some kind of trick.

"Aris." He tried again, and the fox's head came up swiftly, it turned on his tail running straight into the woods only to rush back a moment later. It leaped and bounded off Kruger's chest, taking off once more excitedly. The little fox stopped eventually, pausing in its run to look at him panting. Kruger took Niko's hand in his, spreading it out and holding his wrist down. It was the little fox familiar, he was sure of that now.

"This is Niko." Saying that suddenly felt strange to him in a way it hadn't for a long time. Aris drew close, sniffing the boy's hand, then proceeding to lick it. Niko's fingers were still sticky from the pie Nisha'd given him. "I'm going inside for a minute or two, Niko. Play with Aris. Don't let him wander."

"I won't!" Niko was released, and the boy took off like a shot, trailed by that red streak. Kruger hadn't said the last part for Nikolai. He knew Aris was a girl, it was she who wasn't supposed to let Niko wander. Kruger chuckled as Aris darted in front of the boy when he got too close to the trees. Niko fell, and the fox was right there trying to clean the blueberry from the boy's face.

Kruger watched until he was certain the arrangement would work, then he pushed through the door.

"It's rather rude to enter a man's home uninvited." The voice was deeper than he figured it would be considering the age of the one who spoke.

"I'd agree with you, if you weren't in my house without permission." Kruger watched Georg's gaze go to the front window and the boy out there. The old man's eyes weren't so piercingly blue now, they'd gone stormy since he'd last seen Georg.

"Someone had to watch over her. I figure it's a fair trade." He didn't look back when Kruger gave his unimpressed grunt. "Got yerself a new apprentice?"

"That would be new, since I don't even have an old apprentice. If he were my apprentice, what need would I ever have to bring him here?" Kruger wanted to look at his son out there, but he trusted the fox with Niko far more than the old man sitting at his table. It was his, a lot of the things in the little place were still technically his if he'd wanted to stake a claim.

"I see... I see. You'll be wanting him tested then. An apprenticeship if he passes." Georg passed a hand over his eyes, he looked tired, but that might have been a tear in his eye. Kruger stubbornly refused to believe that was possible.

"He'll pass your test, I took that test, remember? I don't just show up with a hope, and there will be no apprenticeships for Nikolai." Kruger's voice snapped across the gap between them. It was enough to make Georg rise to face him. He was old, but far from frail. Yes, he'd needed to push himself upward, but that seemed more like aching joints than weakness.

"Why come to me, if not to use my influence?" Georg looked frustrated at being spoken to that way in his own home.

"This isn't a bonding session, Georg. It's not a negotiation either. This is an ultimatum. If he passes your test, you decide to come with us. That or know you'll never hear from any of us again. Niko's returning to the family that loves him. I don't need you, he does." Kruger's words seemed to shock Georg. Now he was looking to the window again at Niko as the fox ran circles around him.

"I'll decide, only after I test him. Is he ready?" The old man's fingers grasped the back of a mismatched kitchen chair.

"For the test? Of course he's ready. For you? He may even be ready for that too. I'll need a few minutes with him, then I'll send him in." Kruger turned from the man he'd once called grandfather, taking half a step toward the door before the old man spoke.

"I never got to say it to you.. I'm sorry, for what happened to you and to Al..."

Georg's words were cut off abruptly. Kruger spun back mid-step and connected the back of his hand to the man's mouth. The slapping impact sent him sprawling to the floor. His hands sprouted fire as he looked up at Kruger with an anger almost as intense as the blaze on his hands.

"Do it! Go right ahead, but you're mouth will never be clean enough to say her name. Not to me! Not to your damned wolf god!" His heart was pounding and his fists were pulled tight. Kruger could see the hurt in Georg's expression, and couldn't make himself care. The only thing he cared about was that voice in the back of his head that sounded like her.

You're doing it again. You know how it makes me feel when you look at me that way... What way? Like I'm never coming back... I'd stop, but you'll still give Valerian the letter, just in case you don't...

Gone, Aludariel? he couldn't coax her back. baby? Nothing but the silence and his own inner voice.

"Get yourself cleaned up while I tell Niko what's happening." Kruger's tone was commanding, he would accept no less from Georg.
« Last Edit: August 08, 2019, 10:55:25 AM by Kruger »

Kruger

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Re: I Am Shale
« Reply #17 on: April 03, 2017, 09:01:25 PM »
Kruger walked to the place where he'd buried Elle. He'd delayed Niko's entry into the cabin long enough to let Georg compose himself once more, offering him encouragement even though Niko didn't seem to need it. It was for himself more than anything. Aris managed to dart into the cabin before Georg could get the door closed. There was some mad scrambling going on before things settled down. The stone was still there, Georg hadn't lied about taking care of her. That didn't make him trust the old man. Where Niko was concerned, trust had a very small circle with very little room to add more.

He knelt on the site, as he'd always done. His fingers combing through the blades of grass that covered her grave. It was cool here, the dirt beneath the grass was soft and wet. "I meant to come back a long time ago. Not long after I'd left the elves, I did mean to come see you, but I figured that you could hear me anywhere I was. I still think that, you know." Was it silly to be talking to her outloud? If it was, then she'd understand. He'd always been a little silly with her.

"You were right about me. People do scream my name. Not the one I left behind. Some cheer for Kruger, most for the name you called me. They don't know why it's the one I use. I let them assume what they want. You and I know how it protects me. Life is good, but the journey to get there was full of hard lessons. I'd like to think that I carried you with me. I hope that's okay." He shifted a bit, glossing over the worst things he'd done since she was gone, though he admitted to every one of them.

"There are so many children in my life now to play with. I love them all, and they need me... almost as much as I need them. I am their captain and they are my crew, and we have many adventures together. I wish you were here to see it. Maybe it would make you laugh, I remember your laugh, even if I couldn't get it from you very often. Your worries always seemed to run too deep. I am not sure that I helped you at all. I kept your mirror set, gave it away recently to a young girl that I added to my family. Maybe it was supposed to go to blood, but I doubt I'll ever have a girl. You'd like her though, she's smart and talented. Honestly she reminds me a lot of you in that way. I'm not sure how, or why for that matter, but she's important to me and little Niko loves her. I have a strange little conglomeration of what I call family." Kruger let out a soft sigh, looking over his shoulder to the cabin that held his son, and Georg.

"I'm still all messed up inside. Sometimes I'm full, and I forget for a little while all the things that happened between here and there. Mostly, I just feel empty a lot. Looking for something to fill me up. Problem is when I see it, I've gotten there too late or I'm just so damned afraid that if I get it it'll go again and rip a bigger hole through me. It's okay though, I'm okay, or will be eventually. I've done what's needed doing, it didn't have to be me and some things weren't so pretty. I just couldn't let anyone else be responsible. It does make me wonder though, if when I do go I won't be able to see you, no matter how hard you call my name. She used to tell me that I was full of rage that I buried beneath an iron shell. She used to tell me she loved me anyway. Maybe she's right. Maybe they all are. I'm pretty sure that I'm wrong a lot about life. As it pertains to me at least. Sometimes I wish..." Whatever he was going to say never came, inside the cabin two things happened. There was the sound of an explosion, and then Nikolai's high pitched giggle followed right on its heels.

The boy burst from the cabin, running excitedly towards Kruger and doing his best to bowl him over in an immense hug. Sometimes he obliged the boy, it was always rewarding to watch Niko strut. "I lighted his beard on fire, atsidently."

Kruger went over, like Nikolai weighed far more than he did. There was no rise and pose from the boy. Instead he seemed to be reaching for something, stretching himself to the limits of Kruger's hold on him. "Da! I found a treasure!" He squirmed a bit more, gaining an inch at a time before closing his fingers on something and rising to sit on Kruger's chest.

With great care for his treasure, and little heed for his trousers, Niko worked the dirt and mud from the object he'd recovered. He held it out over Kruger's face. "Can you fix it?"

The object was small, its handle suited to hands more Nikolai's size than his. Kruger knew several things before he lifted a hand to take the little knife from Niko. The first was that it was in dire shape, the entire thing was covered in rust. Some of those spots had eaten deeply into the metal beneath. It's handle was gone, leaving just the tang which was in just as bad shape as the dull blade and corroded point. Saving it, trying to at least could be a futile effort. Niko wanted him to fix it, he thought it would be lucky if the thing survived the trip home. The second thing that had been obvious to him, was that the little blade hadn't been there before. It wasn't that he'd overlooked it, or simply missed it in his reverie. The mud was fresh, but the boy had taken it from the top of the grass.

It was definitely not supposed to be there. Kruger knew by the shape of the thing, by its size and the mark of namlessness on the tang, that it was not supposed to be anywhere that someone could get to. Anima Verus, was a ruin of what it had been when it went into the ground with Elle. Some of those pits were so deep, that he feared there was nothing left but a hole that passed all the way through.

This is my heart, my chest is empty... Kruger pushed the knife into his boot and looked at his son, whose face now held a perplexed look. "It'll be safe with me. When we get home, we'll  fix it together."

-----------------------------
Georg emerged from the cabin, dressed for travel. His beard was trimmed far shorter than it had been when Kruger had seen him last. "You're right, the boy does need me." The grey of his eyes passed over the smith and his son, a slight quirk moved the corner of his mouth upward. Nikolai rolled, and stood quickly. He let out a tiny little giggle, probably remembering the reason that Georg had bothered with the trimming.

Kruger followed Niko up, looking at the boy affectionately before turning a hard glare on Georg. "He's not a weapon, not a tool or an experiment. He's a boy that needs more help than I can give him." He swept up Nikolai in one arm, his pack in the other and started down the path back to the village. "He's also not your apprentice, at best you're his mentor. Anything... everything else must be earned."

They walked silently, for the most part. Nikolai kept spotting Aris in the trees and calling to her. It was strange, the fox had never followed quite like that before unless Elle had asked her to. To his knowledge, Aris had never ventured from the woods by herself. Except for that one time, when she pushed her way between Grimm and him. Grimm, his forge came into view and Kruger was perfectly willing to leave this place without ever seeing him again. He'd thought about it, and until the moment of truth he was sure he would go in and help the smith remember him the hardest way possible. It seemed pointless now, Niko would get the help he needed, did he have anything left to prove?

He was content to let it go, to slip away and never let the man know how close he was to an act of vengeance. Kruger was content, right up until the moment he saw a young boy speed across the field and into the forge. For a moment he thought it was a trick of memory. The angles were all wrong though, and his hair was never so red as that. "Da... you stopped walkin'." His pack hit the ground first, the sight sending Georg's eyes wide. Niko was the next thing to be set down, though far more gently. He rifled through his pack, and pulled free a large ledger bound in green.

"Stay here Niko." Kruger was about to start toward the forge, but Nikolai had chosen that moment not to listen.

"But..."

"No, I won't be long... and Georg wants to tell you a story." He watched the pout on his son's face turn to a more hopeful look as he turned his gaze towards Georg. The old man nodded his acquiescence, and Kruger started once more down a path that he hadn't traveled in over two decades.

"I'll be right with you..." Grimms voice confronted him the moment he set foot through the door. Kruger didn't wait, he didn't even speak as he passed by one project and another making his way relentlessly for the boy working the bellows. He didn't acknowledge the old smith as he passed the fires. They bent his direction, was it possible they recognized him? Perhaps, fire forgets he'd said as much to Nikolai before, yet if this were a continuation of the fire he'd lit all those years ago anything was possible.

Kruger's hand reached for the boy, despite Grimm's protests, and lifted the back of it. The pristine skin did nothing to diminish the fire inside of him.

"Just who the hell do you think you are?" Grimm was moving at him now, stopping short as Kruger turned his face towards the man. He was older, but still large, still immensely strong. That didn't stop him from becoming terrified as he now recognized the man before him.

Kruger let the boy's shirt fall. "Why don't you go outside for a bit, boy. Your master and I have things to discuss. Don't worry about the fire, I'll take care of it for now." He didn't have to see the boy's face to know he'd looked to Grimm. The man's nod was indication enough. Once the child was gone, Kruger set his book on the massive two horned anvil in the middle of the forge. He turned from Grimm and took up the shovel. He could hear the bigger man shuffle back a few steps. It was the same long handled iron shovel he'd held as a boy, and he turned it to the same purpose. Spreading the coals, pulling the bellows chain and then working them more until they were spread evenly.

"Should I assume you're here to kill me, boy?" Grimm's voice was still deep, but now unlike then it was uncertain.

"What should I do? What's proper considering the last time I saw you, you're hands were on my throat?" He spun the handle in his hand, and set the shovel aside. "Sit down, Grimm." He was surprised how calm he felt looking at his tormentor.

"I don't have time for this..." Grimm was heading toward the exit, or toward a weapons rack.

"I SAID, SIT DOWN!" At Kruger's shout, the fire behind him flared up angrily. The door, because that was indeed Grimm's target, slammed itself shut and locked. "This won't take long, not the eight years you took from me certainly."

Grimm put his hands on the lock, but for all his effort the bar wouldn't move. With nowhere else to go, the big smith returned, and took a seat on the over large anvil. His hand came to rest on the green bound ledger. "Open it!" Kruger's command to the man was resisted with a derisive sneer at first, but eventually the cover was opened.

Satisfied for now, Kruger opened his mouth to speak. "I have a name, and it isn't boy. It's Kruger, and you will use it. Are you ready, Master Grimm?"

I am the bone of my sword.

"Blood Boiler." The first word on the page before Grimm was spoken by Kruger. It was a name he'd recognize, the only one he would. And if he didn't, his memory would be jarred abruptly. Behind Kruger the air rippled like a single drop in a puddle. From the center of that circular anomaly the tanto point of a curved blade slid forth revealing half its length. It was the piece he'd created for Aludariel, and it was only the beginning of Kruger's song.


Steel is my body and fire is my blood.

"Gemini, Enkidu's Lament..." Twice more the phenomenon happened. The sneer that Grimm had been holding for Kruger turned into a morbid fascination as first a finely etched rapier point appeared, then a wicked scimitar depicting a horror story of its own. Kruger's voice was cold, but inside his blood boiled hotter, as he spoke names and even before he finished they appeared. He hated this man above all others for the things he'd done.

"The Eye of Horace, Phoenix, Blind Justice..." More weapons appeared, though these were certainly not swords. Two great axe's and a heavy war hammer penetrated the air like it was water.

I have created over a thousand blades.

They would be too artsy for Grimm by far. So many of them would as name after name was spoken aloud, and met by that same ripple and shimmer of metal piercing through a veil. Not all of them were so ornate. "Khaos, Makhi, Bahrain!" The heat that Kruger felt within was slowly working its way outward, over his shoulders, above his head weapons appeared and flickered the firelight of the forge back at at Grimm.

Something else was happening too, Kruger could feel the ties to the living. Those whom he'd created the weapons for. Were they really here, or not? Did any of this touch the other end. In his head many of the names were in different hands now, or left on a field, just one sword among so many others. Even these were coming to his call.

Unaware of Loss. Nor aware of gain.

Lost boy, but so much more than that now. So much of his work had gone to friends, loved ones, people he trusted with some of his darkest secrets. "Walls of the keep, Apple Blossom, Purgatory..." Those three names called not three weapons, but seven. Four identical cutlasses, two light warhammers one of angels, the other demons. All but one of them a Katana with flowers carved into it, part of a set, and still Kruger's fury rose at this man who knew no decency. His chest ached, and those odd ties to the weapons and the hands that wielded them grew stronger.

Withstood pain to create weapons, waiting for one's arrival.

"Ray of Sunlight!" His eyes burned, his cheeks were wet, and no matter how hard he tried, Kruger couldn't stop his body from shaking with decades worth of rage. In his mind he could see them all, even the oddly yellow gold alloyed weapon so recently created.

I have no regrets. This is the only path.

"Lestari!" Somewhere a scepter rattled, the eternal spiral of small purple stones flared and the caged sapphire came to life as though it too burned with a heart's need, maybe more than one. He should have come long ago, should have done this before. Why had he waited so long to quench his rage on the one responsible?

My whole life was Unlimited Blade Works.

"Dark Heart!" This time the weapon's handle arose from the veil that was now lit with a thousand points of light and more. The dam inside of Kruger burst, his hands wrapped around the handle, and pulled free the odd long handled warhammer. Its head carved into a clockwork heart, pierced by a large wicked looking spike. Along the haft the sum of everything he'd ever learned about his craft wound around it in a mathematical formula too intricate to memorize. Ensconced within its heart, beat a micro singularity, its encased energy utilized in one mighty swing of his arms.

The hammer's head descended toward Grimm in a downward arc, and when it made contact hell rained from the veil behind Kruger. Dark Heart's head struck one of the immense horns of the anvil upon which Grimm sat. Had he moved at all, he would have been struck by every one of those waiting weapons. They had longed to rip, tear and dismember the object  that was the old smith. They all sailed in close, and all of them embedded themselves into something before dissipating, returning to hand field and sheath, if they were ever here at all. They must have been, the hammer was still solid in Kruger's hands. Were they? The forge still held the destruction of their passing. Maybe that had been something else though.

Kruger pushed the hammer beneath Grimm's chin, pushing him up from his seat and toward the back wall of the forge. It was the corner allotted to Kruger in his time here, though there was no physical evidence left of his passage. "You took my home, my friends... you took my family, my dignity... my name, and My TRUST! I've hated you all my life, killed you in my mind with every weapon I've ever created. A thousand deaths and more Grimm, yet here you stand. I'm tired of not being able to sleep at night, of being afraid to open up to anyone, of being afraid I'll end up just like you. I'm going to do something about that now."

Kruger's foot wrapped around Grimm's leg, sweeping his feet from beneath him. The hammer pressed harder against the old man's throat. "I'm going to forgive you, and forget that you were ever anything to me. I can't forget what you've done, I see it every time I look at myself. For that, it's my turn to take from you." Kruger pushed his will out to Grimm's forge. It was an extension of the man in much the same way Kruger's was.

"You would try to take my forge from me? I thought I'd taught you better than that. It's not possible without..." Grimm's confident voice wavered and then stopped altogether. "Not possible! I made you!"

"Yes, but like so many of the things you do, my old master, you fail to understand what it is you're making. You will work this place, at my whim. But don't worry, my conditions are quite simple. If another even begins to suffer what you put me through... I don't even have to be here, Grimm. This whole place will kill you where you stand." Kruger let Grimm feel the true weight of the hammer before releasing him and leaving the man choking in that little corner. He breathed deeply and more freely than he ever remembered as he pushed the door open and left his past behind. He rejoined Georg and his son, the old man's eyebrow arched noticing the weapon in his hand. They continued the walk through the village to the docks quietly. As the ship pulled away from the dock, Niko broke the silence.

"Da, the boy had a mark like yours, only it wasn't on his face. He said he got to pick a name, and he picked the one for the watscher in the river." Nikolai's fingers curled in, all but one as he pointed to the obelisk and the words at the very top of it.


(Quote embedded within the preceding comes from  Emiya Shirou Fate Stay Night)
« Last Edit: August 08, 2019, 11:18:47 AM by Kruger »