I Am Shale

"She was his queen, and God help anyone who dared to disrespect the queen" - Suicide Squad

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I Am Shale

Post by Kruger »


“Are they kidding with that? Tell me they’re kidding, dad!” Aliazh Shattersword stepped into the room and threw the ceremonial hammer across the room with enough force that it punched through the plaster of the wall and stuck there. It would have been satisfying if the noise and the shouting hadn’t woken the baby up in his wife’s arms. A blunt fingered hand went to his shoulder, the dwarf it was connected to having to reach up ever so slightly to put his arm around his son.

“Calm down Al, it’s not so bad as it seems.” Flint Shattersword gave his son a pat. Al hated it when his father tried to be consoling. It only meant one thing, he’d given in already to the decree of the dwarven council.
“Not bad?! They named him Shale. It’s fucking insulting! It’s bad enough what they named me, Aliazh… Alloy, impure. Don’t think I don’t know that’s what they were getting at. He’s your father, surely you have some pull with him.” Al turned pale green eyes on his father and ground his teeth. “Don’t look at me like that, Shale… you know what it means.”

“I’m going to take Shale up and try to get him back to sleep.” Lumira Shattersword may have carried a dwarven name, but there was nothing dwarvish about her. She was the tallest in the room by a full head, there was a faint point to her ears quite similar to that of her husband’s. Her features were distinctly fae in nature, though it was carried over a frame that easily spoke of her human roots as well. She looked at Al and Flint in a way that had both men bowing their heads a little and looking at her pitifully. They’d be more careful, or she’d let loose with all the fury she barely kept controlled under that head of thick red hair.

Al watched her go, and pulled his tone down much further. “Mud stone. They’re as much calling him a mutt. I never should have gone through with this stupid tradition.

“If it helps, I think they have somethin’ against me… for your mother.” If Flint was feeling guilty, he certainly didn’t sound it. His manner was more defiant than guilt judging by the hard set of his jaw. “Don’t you worry me boyo. They may be hard pressed to remember their choices. Alloys be stronger than pures… and Shale be one mighty useful rock. Take heart that both of ye will live upter your names. Besides, wouldya rather not’ve been born as ye are? Might be ye wouldn’ have the boy upstairs, or the wife ye love. Might be everythin’ would be changed and ye’d be wonderin’ what’s missin’ from yer life.”

Al was too pretty to be a dwarf, despite his stature. Not surprising really, considering he was only half. The cant and point to his ears was easily noticed among the dwarves, it had come from his mother, the mountain elf. She and his father had split nearly a decade ago. Al had been raised among the brothers under the mountain, but he’d never been fully accepted despite his abilities with the stone. He’d never been fully accepted anywhere except for this city where strange was the norm.

The reappearance of Lumira sans baby Shale had Al sighing relief. “I’ll never understand why he sleeps so much better with the windows open than closed. He fussed until I did that.” She crossed the room and surveyed the damage to her wall. “You’re going to fix that one since you did it.” She was pretending to be upset, Al knew her pretty well, and if she were truly upset she’d have sent both of them out to gather the tools needed to get the job done now.

“Shale will be a good name for him. We’ll make it work Al, I promise, besides, this was my idea. You get the naming but I get the testing.” It was a bit presumptuous of her in Al’s opinion. The woman insisted that the boy would show most talent in either fire or water. She backed it up with questionable facts like because he was inside of her he would find her affinities.

“Okay…” Al acquiesced for now, but he’d bring it up to Lu tonight, after leaving her breathless and what he liked to describe as far more receptive to logic. He’d try, but Lu was a force of nature, and he would have to adjust in the end. Perhaps it was best to just begin to get used to it, Lu would stubbornly adhere to the name offered. He loved her too much to make that decision be something miserable for her. It was easier, and perhaps better to just give him nicknames which made more sense to a father. “Okay, I get it, I’m outnumbered here anyway, but dad. I’m not willing to let the slight go without suitable justice. That I will leave in your hands.”

Flint’s eyes lit up for two reasons, the first being that his stubborn son had seemed to find the thing he needed to overcome it. The second was that he was more than willing to extract proper payment from the dwarven councilors. Already he was running through what would best serve each member, though most especially his intolerant father.
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Re: I Am Shale

Post by Kruger »

Hold Your Tongue

“It was right where you said it would be.” Aerimella Triton’s voice barely carried across the sandy beach as she stepped from the ocean. Shale heard her, he could never not hear her. The carefree girl with wildly pink hair and a tan nearly as brown as the sand upon which she walked. He looked up at her approach, that she was naked in the sun did not seem to bother her any. It didn’t bother him either, she’d always been that way since the day he’d met her nearly three years ago. It hadn’t been quite the same, she’d saved him from drowning and paid a hefty price for it when her father found out. Mermaids did not save humans, they killed them. Age mattered little, they were as merciless as the sea under which they lived. She had though, and when she’d been asked all she could say was that the sea itself had asked her to.

Aerimella knelt on the sand by the fire, giving it a dubious look. It was too warm for a fire, unless they were trying to cook something. Shale could read it in her expression. “I still don’t know how you do it. You know, find the treasures that you can’t see.”

Shale flushed at what she was saying, every inch of his seven year old body going still against the sensation. A long moment passed before he was able to move enough to shrug. “People look to hard at things, when sometimes listening is better.” He’d tried to explain the voices to her before, but even in Rhy’Din city hearing voices was a bad thing. It wasn’t the first odd thing that he’d ever done. Why he had walked into the ocean when he could barely swim had been odd enough. At least that he could explain. He’d been trying to get to the Roane, a clan of Selkies on an island not far away. He’d been trying to change into a seal so that he could make the journey. The change hadn’t come, much the same as earlier that day when his grandmother had come to test him.

He’d concentrated so hard, willed himself to become one of the Roane. That he was sinking in water well over his head hadn’t panicked him at first. Not until he hit the bottom of the pool and realized that he couldn’t reach the ladders to get out. That time it had been his mother who had pulled him from the watery depths.

You would have let him drown? He’s your grandson for gods’ sake.There was anger in her words, and heat in her face when she spoke.

He is not Roane, një gur, a stone,why should I care, why should you for that matter? Shale hadn’t understood then. He hadn’t understood his mother’s panic, hadn’t understood why he couldn’t make his body move to the surface of the water. He hadn’t understood the words of his grandmother at that time. Now he did, and the feelings hurt him.

He didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to feel it anymore. He put his hand too near the fire, pretending it was an accident so he would have a reason to look like he was hurting. “It seems kind of silly to make you get your own present, but it was…”

“Too far down, I know.” Aerimella gave him a winning smile, though it gave away her truer nature in the form of needle pointed incisors. Mermaids were not friendly to those of the land. They were not like the stories that parents told. They were dangerous, and deadly to those in the water. Why she wasn’t like that with him he’d never know. She knew what too far down meant though. Not too far down for him to get, rather too far for him to make it back up.

“Go ahead and open it.” Shale rose from his spot and came around the fire to kneel next to her and watch as she opened the box that had been extracted from the sea. It contained a sea green emerald, shaped like a seahorse about the size of her thumbnail on a choker.

Aerimella shook her had at the gift. “It’s soo pretty, but it’s too much. It’s your birthday, you should be getting presents from me.”

Shale turned away from her and it. “It’s not a birthday present thing. It’s a goodbye thing.”

The necklace fumbled from her fingers. If he hadn’t had her attention before, it was his now. “I thought you said you’d failed the tests. That none of them wanted you.”

Shale’s fingers traced little paths in the sand as he retrieved the choker from where it had fallen. “I did, and they are all long gone.” He took a couple of seconds to figure out the clasp before standing up and moving around behind her to put it around her neck. She grasped her hair in one hand, it was like some odd sort of girl instinct that Shale didn’t understand.

“Today someone came to my house, he said he wanted to ‘pprentice me to be a smith. I’m spos’ta to be leaving with the tide.”

“Where will you be going?”

“I don’t know.”

“When will you be back?”

“I don’t know.”

“What ship, maybe I can follow you for a while.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything, nobody asked me, they don’t tell me.” He finished with the clasp, and laid the necklace on her shoulders. Then he looked up at the house on the hill. “My mom’s calling me.”

“I don’t…” Aemirella’s words were cut off by the faint voice of Lu calling for Shale to come in for dinner because it was almost time.

“I gotta go. Goodbye Aemy.” Shale huffed out a sigh as the call came again, this time with his mother looking sternly down at the two of them. He took off at a run, knowing those stern looks could precede even sterner admonishments.

”Will you miss me?” The words should have been inaudible as far away from her as he was. Especially considering that he could tell she was whispering. Shale turned around looking back. Aemirella was stepping into the waves.

“I ALREADY DO!!” He shouted as loudly as he could without knowing if she had heard. She had looked back, waved as she saw him doing the same. That didn’t mean he’d been heard.


Two weeks on board the Switch, hadn’t made Shale miss home any less. Dinner had been rushed, despite how he tried to prolong it by making his father do the silly things he always did. His mother, usually so stern about such matters, seemed accepting, perhaps even regretful. She was not herself at all, though why would she be? She didn’t hide things so well, not from him at least. Of course he’d learned to read her moods pretty well, that had saved him more than once from being disciplined. Not always of course, Shale was still just as willing to try new things even when it wasn’t what his parents wanted. Perhaps it wasn’t all his fault. The voices often called to him, and over time he’d come to recognize them for what they were. Air and water, fire and earth, they were always alive and talking. Perhaps not to him, but that didn’t stop him from listening in. It was this which had allowed him to find the box, and know what was inside of it before Aerimella ever brought it from the water. It was this which he’d relied upon to tell him about his parents long after Grimm had put his hand on Shale’s shoulder and guided him toward the ship.

He’d watched the harbor disappear, and his parents along with it. The wind told of their progress back home until they were no longer touched by it. He tried to shut off the sounds Lumira was making without effect. When the wind failed him, he knelt on the aft deck looking to the waters below hoping to see a faint flash of scale, and pink hair. Of his friend there was no sign, had she already forgotten him? Was she being punished for seeing him once again? The latter was more likely he knew. Grimm had come eventually to take him below decks to the cabin they’d be sharing. It wasn’t all theirs of course, the crew rotated shifts, the rooms and hammocks would need to be shared. It would be theirs at night though.

“I need you to do something, boy.” Grimm was tall and broad. He had thick arms and a red beard that ran braided halfway down his chest. He was like an immense red headed version of Shale’s grandfather. The boards that made up the deck beneath his feet trembled at his passing as he led Shale to a room at the aft end of the ship, two levels below where he’d been kneeling.

“I need you to keep your wits about you. Don’t tell anyone your name, you can run and play but when they ask you who you are, you will keep quiet.” He pushed open the door before Shale, who was staring up at the man in confusion, could run headlong into it. “Can you do that?”

“I can.” Shale nodded firmly at the huge man and gave him a broad smile. “Somethin’ wrong with sayin my name?”

“Normally, I don’t like pirates, kid, but these aren’t really that. They’re raiders, and they’re clan. What they get, they share with all. You’re not clan yet, it’s like you have no name. Stay here for now, try to get used to the bed. It’ll rock funny and your belly may not like it. There’s a bucket just there if you get to feeling sick.” Grimm’s head turned to the corner and a wooden bucket.

Grimm had left him alone then. He’d been right, the beds did rock funny, always it seemed going the opposite direction as the ship was. His stomach went queasy quickly on that first day. That was two weeks gone now, and he’d learned to adjust. He spent much of his day running the deck with Petra the cabin boy and at fourteen years old the closest person in age to Shale. He’d taught Shale how best to climb the rigging, and stood with him atop the mast where it seemed like they could see for miles. He’d even shown Shale a number of good places to hide if hunters boarded them.

Two weeks in the sun had put a bronze burnish to Shale’s skin too, there was something about the sea that made the sun feel that much stronger. All of the crew seemed to share that same trait, except for Grimm who kept himself covered most of the time. The parts that weren’t covered had gone straight to sunburnt almost overnight. Petra was in Shale’s room now, they were playing a dice game that Petra had taught him.

“I just don’t get why I don’t get to know… I mean if we were attacked, and I saw someone about to stab you in the back, how would I call out to you to let you know?” It wasn’t the first time Petra had asked, citing many reasons which were all good. This last one had Shale thinking. How indeed would he be able to?

“It’s just that…” He looked at Petra almost helpless before finally giving in. “Yell for Shale, and I’ll duck, okay?”

“Petra!” The Captain seemed to have the volume of three people, it was enough to be heard from prow to stern, and top to bottom of the Swift. Petra gathered up the dice, and headed for the door, pulling it wide and revealing Grimm on his way down the corridor. He looked at the cabin boy as he passed by him. Petra exchanged a nod with him before disappearing up a ladder and out of sight.

Grimm turned and shut the door. “It’s time for your first lessons, boy. You ready?”

Shale stood up quickly in his excitement, crossing the room in leaps. He’d been wondering when the man would begin to teach him. He grinned up at Grimm expectantly. It was short-lived ecstasy, Shale suddenly became a missile aimed at the wall. The backhand had caught him hard across the mouth. He’d never seen anyone move so quickly, let alone someone the size of Grimm. His joints popped with the impact, body dropping to the floor like a sack. His mouth hurt, a wipe of his sleeve came away red. Then the deck began to shudder beneath Grimm’s boot heels.

“Lesson one, boy.” Grimm’s hands slid to his belt, and pulled it free of his body. “When I say a thing you do it. But don’t you worry, we’ll teach you how to hold your tongue.”

There were moments that Shale was certain his screams were every bit as loud as the Captain's had been. He'd called for his parents, for Petra, for anyone until his lungs hurt and his consciousness fell away from him.
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Re: I Am Shale

Post by Kruger »

My Name is Mud

Shale had laid against the side of the boat that night, and all of the day following. Every part of him hurt, the welts on his arms had turned to buckle shaped bruises, a consequence of trying to stop the belt’s descent onto him. Every time he’d tried, Grimm would only grow angrier with him and the next several blows would come in harder and careless of where they landed. This could be evidenced by the lump on the back of his head, the last thing he remembered before waking up. Still no one had come, he’d never felt so alone.

Fresh tears he had to stay quiet, silent tears though they burned his eyes and stung places across his face. I’m Shale, I’m Shale, my name is Shale, every repetition of the litany preceded a silent gasp for air that left his body shuddering with the effort to keep even his labored breathing silent. Momma, please… I’m Shale.

Overhead the wind gusted, snapping the sailcloth in its jaws and pushing the ship forward with a howl. It whispered to him many things, but at that moment he couldn’t hear it. Something in that howl sounded almost familiar. One voice, his mother’s voice from a time years before.

You are the proud son of a proud son. The sound brought the memory to him vividly.

Does it mean mud momma? That was what they had said to him, the bigger boys from down the block. All of them were bigger than him, even though he was older than some. They’d made him so mad with their words and their laughter.

Look at the house Shale, tell me what you see. His mother pointed to the building behind him, the one where those who’d laughed at him lived.

I see bricks, they’re red and orange, though some of them look a little more white. There’s cement lines between them. I like to trace the lines with my finger, it’s always so much smoother than the bricks are.

Push it over, Shale. Push the wall down. Shale did as he was told, putting his hands to the wall and shoving with everything he had. It wouldn’t move.

Strike it then, break the brick and mortar. Obediently he pounded on the wall, this too did nothing more than leave the side of his hand scraped for his efforts. The wall hadn’t cried out, it hadn’t shrieked for help. It had stood and taken the best Shale had to give it.

Mud in the bricks, Shale, and the mortar between them. Without the mortar the bricks would fall free. Without the bricks, the mortar would crumble. Without the mud, neither would be. You’re strong. Strong enough to shelter us all from the wind and the cold. Strong enough to keep entire families from the rain and the snow. They won’t see it, especially if you let them get to you. All they’ll see is the mud that washes away. Decide what you want to be, then be it. As quickly as the memory had come it was gone. It had done the trick though. It hurt to move, but Shale did it anyway.

It was harder to stop the tears from falling, he took ragged breaths and looked around. The room was empty except for him. He hadn’t needed to be silent after all. He was that now though, taking halting steps towards the door and stepping from the room. He passed an empty cubby, one that Petra had shown him before, and part of him wanted to crawl inside and hide from the world. But the cubby was just an empty hole. He didn’t want to become part of that world again. His fingers clung to the rungs of the ladder, they were about the only things on him that didn’t ache. Step by slow step he went up to the deck above, a process repeated once more to put him on top of the ship. The sailors ignored him, pretending they couldn’t see him, though he clearly caught their eyes looking his way. Shale stood at the aft railing looking back the way they had come.

“What are you looking at boy?” It was Grimm, his deep voice had startled Shale, but he didn’t turn to look at the man. His fingers clamped around the railing tightly.

“I want to go home.” Maybe he hadn’t learned the lesson of when to hold his tongue so well.

“Of course you do, I knew you would the moment I set eyes on you. You can’t though, you have no home now. You have no family either, they’re all dead. I’m all you’ve got, and you are not Clan.” There was no comfort in Grimm’s voice. It dropped from him as hard as the beating had been.

Shale could feel the burn again, his eyes threatening to defy his resolve. He pressed his forehead to the railing and shook it. “No, I’m mud.” His fingers found a way to grow even tighter anticipating the backhand and accepting it in silence.


Glanchester village was small compared to the city that had birthed Shale. It rested at the base of a mountain range, next to a river that raged its way past the village. Not that Shale had gotten to see it very well. The sun was gone when Grimm finally stopped in front of a large home. Through the front windows burned lights, the windows on the second story were dark and if it weren’t for the crickets the place would be nearly silent. Shale started for the door, when Grimm put his hand roughly on his shoulder.

“Not so fast boy, there’s work to be done.” The large man started toward the barn, opening the doors and moving into the darkness beyond. Shale’s eyes adjusted quickly, they’d always done that though whether that came from his elven or dwarven sides he didn’t know. He stood in the opening, looking at a workspace that contained a large forge, an anvil, and tools neatly housed into places that they could be easily reached.

“Clean the ash out of the forge, then I’ll show you how to start the fire.” It was the nicest Grimm had been since they’d set sail. He was sweating by the time he was done, the shovel was heavy, formed of iron so that the handle wouldn’t need to be replaced. Iron not steel, the alloy was expensive, and the shovel only needed to be usable for shoveling ashes. Shale had managed to do the work without uttering a word, though towards the end he was grunting with his efforts to lift the shovel.

“‘Bout time you finished. There’s a pile out back, take the bucket, dump it there. On the way back grab the barrow, fill it completely. Not higher than the sides though. I have to measure every bit of the coal I use.” Grimm’s voice held a now familiar edge. Shale’s slowness had irritated him, and he knew it. Irritation toward him seemed to be the only thing the man was capable of.

Shale hurried now, grabbing up the bucket and practically running out the backside of the barn. The pile was unmistakable, even though the weather had beaten it down, drenched it and pounded it again with heat and wind. Shale dumped the ash, caring little where the contents of the bucket landed. Then he was doing his best to steer an unwieldy barrow to the pile of coals. Another shovel was placed there, this one more standard at least, though the handle towered over him. He worked quickly, or tried to at least, the shovel loads were small, and the coals would drop free in a cascade as the spade end twisted in his hands. There was the added issue of neither over or under filling the barrow. Even as he was wheeling it in, he just wasn’t sure that his efforts would be rewarded with pain.

“Finally back eh? I was growing impatient.” Grimm’s hands were planted firmly against his hips in fists. Shale knew the sign, he braced himself once more for an impact from the man. It never came.

“You took too long boy… just too long. It’s time for me to go inside. This is your place, you’ll have to make do with no fire. Tomorrow I’ll show you how to light it, how to tend it and you’ll learn, or… Much like tonight, you’ll be cold. It’s good we got back sooner than expected, else I’d have needed to teach you how to move quickly. Someone will come out with a bit of bread for you. Want more? You’ll have to earn it… here I thought you dwarves knew your way around a shovel. Guess you just don’t measure up.”

Shale wished he’d have been slapped, or backhanded, or punched. These had been happening repeatedly, and at least he was becoming better able to deal with them. There’d been no stop to eat dinner, they were too close to stop, Grimm had claimed. Shale was hungry, his hands ached in a way he’d never realized they could. First the iron, with its coating of fine rust, scoured him. Then the wooden handle had raised pus filled blisters, only to break them open and make his palms sting. He could see Grimm clearly, the cruelest of grins on his face as he backed up through the door, then closed it to shut out all the light.

Shale whimpered, he’d learned on the way here that the ground even though it was warm out, would steal the heat from him. It would leave him shivering in the darkness, unable to sleep. At least then he’d had the stars to look at. In here there was only shadow, shadow and the form of a small boy. I’m Shale, I’m Shale, I’m Shale…Why was it always so much scarier in the dark?
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Re: I Am Shale

Post by Kruger »


Wish I'd died instead of lived
A zombie hides my face
~ Corey Taylor

Shale worked the bellows as he’d been taught, ignoring the sound of the air as it whispered to him all the ways the same thing could be accomplished. A year since he’d been taken, another birthday. He was sure that Grimm knew, and just as sure that he would give him nothing. Wasn’t he giving the boy enough? This question had come often from the man in those first few weeks. It had been Day li’en, Grimm’s slightly portly wife, who’d arranged for him to have blankets to sleep with. It had been she who came that first night with a lamp, and the heel ends of a loaf of bread. She’d smiled as she entered, only to have that smile falter as she brought the light closer. Shale hadn’t seen his own reflection since leaving home, in that moment he was glad of the fact.

Day li’en knew what had happened to him, he could see it in her face. Even if he couldn’t it quickly became clear to him. It was just as clear that she would do nothing to interfere. At first he’d hated her for that, but she wasn’t immune to her husband either. Grimm was an exacting sort of man. He wanted things done only as he said them, from how to build or bank the fires to the precise way that his home was to be cleaned. To do anything else was to arouse his anger. It was always there, barely just buried beneath the surface, requiring just the barest scratch to bring it to light. That Day was terrified of him was obvious the first time Shale had seen them together. She knew her way around him better, but even with all her precautions she still made mistakes. Shale had felt what it was to be on the other side of that, seeing it happening was more than his heart could bear. Still if Day took it sometimes, Shale was particularly abrasive to Grimm.

It had become Day li’en’s duty to clean up the boy afterwards. She did it with a proficiency that said she had a lot of experience. “Why do you constantly have to make him do this to you?” She’d asked him after one particularly long bout. She would only ask once.

“It hurts more watching him do it to you.” Shale had answered honestly, he hadn’t meant to make her cry.

“He wasn’t always like this. You don’t believe me, I know, but it’s true. We had a child, and when he died something inside of Grimm just broke.” Day spoke with conviction, but Shale couldn’t imagine Grimm being anything but what he was.

After that, she began to sneak him a little bit extra. It wasn’t much, but it was kind, if risky. It was just over eleven months now, and Shale had not even told her what his name was. He held onto it doggedly. The litany in his mind had become less a plea for help, than a prayer that gave him strength. Over that time, his duties to the forge and its master increased. At first his main duty, one that remained his highest priority, was to keep the forge fire burning through the night. He’d learned, with the help of the fire and the air, the most efficient way to bank it at night. He’d learned many things from the elements which, at first, hadn’t noticed him. It wasn’t until he began to speak back, in the late hours when no one was awake, that they began talking to him. They were doing so now, the fire begging him for more fuel and more air was countered by the air which entered the fires far cooler than when they swept back past his ears. Enough they would tell him, and Shale would know it was okay to stop pumping.

“...two hours, and no more.” Grimm had been speaking, Shale had gotten carried away as he listened to the wind. He had no idea what he was supposed to be doing for that two hours. Wide eyed and silent he looked at the big man.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Grimm’s voice boomed at him, already growing frustrated that Shale hadn’t jumped to do whatever he’d been asked for. “Even the clanless are born sometimes, or did you think I’d forgotten? If you go swimming though, mind the current.”

Two hours? Away from the forge? Shale got down off the stool he was standing on to reach the bellows chain. He didn’t really believe that he’d be allowed to make it all the way out without being called back. Step by step his hope built, until he was standing in the doorway.

“And Boy…” Shale turned at Grimm’s most serious tone, certain that this was the moment that the man would pull him back and laugh because he’d dared to hope. “...you have no name, no clan, no one will search for you if you go down and don’t come back up.”

Shale said nothing, letting the deflation of his body speak for itself. He didn’t care in the least that it had just told a lie to the red bearded smith. That the man had thought his reaction was to the words, and not that Shale was relieved he wasn’t being called back.
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Re: I Am Shale

Post by Kruger »

Like a Stone

In your house I long to be
Room by room patiently
I'll wait for you there
Like a stone
I'll wait for you there

~ Chris Cornell

Children played along the shoreline of an angry river. Shale did not approach them, he knew better than to try and fit in with them. He watched them, and listened to the voice of the river as it raged angry at being so confined. Shale had tried to make friends on those few occasions he’d been allowed to leave the forge. He’d been almost successful once, before an adult hand reached for the girl and carried her away. He’d never learned her name, but he remembered the piercing blue eyes and the wildly curling blonde hair as she looked back at him. The others ignored him at first, then drove him away with brandished stones and clubs made from sticks that had washed up along the shore. Grimm was right, no one would come for him if the river took him.

Another sound touched Shale’s ears, one that he’d never heard before. He turned his back on them, traveling upstream towards the forest and the unfamiliar sound. It became clear as he drew further from the village that it was singing, though there were no words to decipher in it. Trees hid the village from sight, and the sounds of it were gone as well. It was just him and the lone singer now. He stopped when he caught sight of a woman as she stood in the river rubbing what he could only assume were her clothes on a rock.

“It’s rude to stare, boy. Ruder still to not announce yourself, are you a bandit that you would act so?” She wasn’t looking when she’d spoken, but she turned her head and looked directly at the place he was standing.

“I’m no thief!” Shale’s arms crossed defiantly over his chest at the presumed insult. He did move forward more into the small clearing, if only to get a better look at the one who had called him bandit.

“No… I suppose not. A bandit would have simply attacked.” She was old, the wrinkles on her face etched deeply as the bark of the trees he’d just left. Her hair was so white that it actually looked blue in the sunlight. “Don’t just stand there growing roots, make yourself useful.”
Shale took more steps forward, then stopped by the rivers edge. “I can’t swim.” Guilt pressed itself to him, digging into his flesh and seeping inside. “I am, një gur.” That was what he’d been called, half his life ago, the words stayed stuck in his mind.

“A stone are you? But just a little one. No, even stones can swim; they just do it differently.” She pointed to a basket on the shoreline. “I’ve left my basket behind, the water here is not so deep. Put the basket on your head and just walk to me.”

Should he trust her, or was this another trick that would only get him into trouble again. He seemed to have quite the knack for getting into that. Slowly he moved to comply, kicking off his shoes and gathering the basket and stepping into the water before remembering to at least take off his pants. The river’s current pushed at Shale immediately, he dug his feet in and pushed right back.

“I can’t help my size, it’s not my fault that everyone here is a giant.” Everyone everywhere was a giant to Shale, unless they were much younger than him. The woman had been right though, the water only came to the middle of his chest by the time he’d reached her. He hadn’t braved the river yet, being in it he couldn’t help but look down towards the village. Forms, small ones, still played in the water there. He only registered them for a moment before directing his gaze onward toward a single spire of stone rising from the water. “What is that?”

The old woman chuckled, and started to load up the basket. “Are you blind too? It’s a stone, only a big one. It does not swim. Because the river is not deep enough. It just stands there guarding Abaddon, and the gateway to Sheol. At least until the river knocks it down.”

“What do you mean? What are Abaddon, and Sheol?” He stopped looking at the stone tower and turned to look at her. The last word sounded like his name, but not quite. “And how will the river knock it down?”

“The river… depends on what you believe. It was named after a potter, though few remember that now, or that the clay that the river churns up is used in making so many of our wares. Kruger it’s called, but every village along it and even those to the far reaches of our country know the river Kruger flows into Abaddon, the bottomless pit, and past the gates of Sheol the land of the dead.” She loaded the basket as she talked, and didn’t wait to tell him she was done. She just started for the shore, continuing her story. If Shale wanted to hear more he’d have to go along with her.
“The stone, it will fall a little at a time no doubt. Every day and every night the river pounds upon it. It has stood a long time, but then again this one was probably as tall once.” She said it offhandedly, as though he should have noticed it immediately.

“Kind of like an anvil then?” He stayed with her as best he could, wincing once when she reached out to steady him. He managed to keep his burden out of the water, this made him smile at the woman.

“What is it with boys and the naming of things that have stood for thousands of years? But, yes a little, like an anvil if that makes it easier to understand.” She took the basket from him and set it down. Shale stood there dripping, his clothing soaked. He pushed his shoes back onto his feet and followed the woman through the woods to a small shack hidden deeper in the forest.

“Still with me then? You should do the carrying then, and let an old woman walk in comfort.” The gasp she gave may have been surprise as Shale took the basket on top of his head once more.

There were lines strung between the trees, for hanging the wet clothing. They were too high for Shale to reach, though when he tried the old woman pulled his shirt off of him and put it over one of the lines. She was giving him that look that he hated out of Day li’en.
He could see by her eyes what it was she stared at. “Go inside, you’ll find a housecoat on the chair in there. Put it on, and bring me your wet pants, no sense in sending you home soaking wet.”

Shale did not move, he simply looked up at her with his jaw set for a moment. He hated when he made them feel the way she was looking at him. There was only one thing he could think of to do. His mouth went wide, every tooth showing. He’d gotten good at this, had even managed to figure out how to get it to his eyes. “It’s nothing, I can’t even feel it.”

It was a lie, but it was for the right reasons so far as he was concerned. He turned toward the cabin, barely more than a shack knowing that side of him was even worse. He didn’t have to see her face to know the look had returned. Shale told his lie again, not with words this time, but with his posture, standing up straighter and walking towards the place as though he didn’t feel anything.

“Like an anvil.” Shale heard the words behind him, though he wasn’t meant to. As he shouldn’t have heard her singing, or Aemy’s final question to him. The air carried it to him, whether intentional or not. He stopped in the doorway and looked back.
“Maybe, a little, if it helps you understand easier.”


“I told you two hours and no more, boy.” Shale had hurried, he’d run all the way back from the woman’s cabin, but he knew the moment the sun dipped below the horizon that he was going to be too late, and not just a little too late either. Grimm was standing there waiting for him inside the barn. The door to the house closed loudly, and Shale could see that Day and come out. She looked scared. By the expression on Grimm’s face, she was right to.

“Two hours, that’s what you told me. No more.” It was better to admit the truth when it was obvious that lying wouldn’t matter. Shale knew by now there was no pleading. He simply moved towards the barn, pulling the shirt off for the second time that day. He heard a stifled noise out of Day as he passed by Grimm into the forge. His shirt was tossed well away from him as he stood between a pair of roof supports. He stepped to one and the other taking hold of the leather loops that hung from each, and sliding them onto his wrists. Day was there then, pulling them taut, her chin was shaking as she looked at him.

“It’s okay.” Shale spoke softly to her. His mind went to what the old woman had told him about the rock in the water. He pulled out the grin that he’d perfected for just such occasions. “It’s my birthday. I promise, I won’t even feel it.” He tried to make his words true as the first lash split the skin of his back. He closed his eyes and bit his lip, Shale did his best to be like a stone.
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Re: I Am Shale

Post by Kruger »


I break down, only alone I will cry out loud
You'll never see what's hiding out
Hiding out deep down, yeah, yeah
I know I've heard that to let your feelings show
Is the only way to make friendships grow
But I'm too afraid now, yeah, yeah
~ Sia and Christopher Braide


Snow had fallen during the night, it crunched beneath Shale’s feet as he made his way through the forest beneath the moonlight. Yule, it only came once a year and he’d missed it. That was days ago, now it was the Sabbath. If there was one thing the boy had learned since coming here, it was that Grimm observed the Sabbath. He would work, but not right away, besides it was hours until dawn and Shale had banked the fires late so they had time to burn while he made his trip to the old woman’s shack of a house. He checked his pocket for what must’ve been the hundredth time since leaving the forge.

The lump was still there, a gift to the old woman. She hadn’t given her his name yet, that was fair so far as he was concerned. He hadn’t given her his name either. He’d determined one thing simply from listening. The people of the village called her Elle an'allein. There were several translations, though it seemed obvious to Shale that she who walks alone was probably most fitting. It was quite true that he never saw her in anyone’s company, well other than his own. Ever since that day, whenever Grim had given him free time he had gone there. Sometimes it was to talk, other times he just sat silently while she applied salves to the skin of his back. Lately she’d had more for him to do. He would cut the wood for her, or do any number of things that were simpler in youth than age. He certainly didn’t mind, she above all people was nice to him. The last several times he’d shown up, she’d ushered him inside, sat him at the table and begun to teach him to read. Back in the forge he’d hidden a book, it was thick with pages and words that he barely knew how to pronounce. He would read it anyway, remembering those words so that he could ask her the next time he saw her what they meant.

She’d brought it to him on one of her rare appearances at the village for supplies. She’d waited until Grimm had gone, leaving Shale to tend the fires. That had become routine, especially with his ability to hear the voices. They told him when it needed tending and when he could leave it be. In between he would do other things, repair tools that were on the verge of breaking, or polish and sharpen blades that Grimm had been working on. This was what he’d been doing when she made her presence known. Shale, so often alone, had taken to singing softly to the tools and blades as he worked on them.

“Tell me Nicovală, why do you sing? Surely you have little to sing for.” Her voice startled him, he hadn’t heard her approach. Whether that was due to his preoccupation with the work, or the magic that so many whispered about her Shale didn’t know. He knew the voice, he knew the word. Nicovală, it was old even among Grimm’s people, but it meant anvil. He’d been called much worse, the term boy wouldn’t have been so bad if he didn’t feel it meant something owned. Was he owned? He just wasn’t sure. The blade he’d been sharpening dropped from his hands and hit the stone floor ringing for what seemed an eternity to him.

“It soothes them, the stone and the knife.” He turned towards Elle and found his grin again. His face was just as unkempt as always, the dirt and soot hiding the bruises beneath like the makeup Day used. “If I don’t sing, they both scream so loudly that I can’t even concentrate. It’s better this way.”

“I brought you a gift. It’s early for Yule, but I won’t be down this way for that. I didn’t have it wrapped. I didn’t think it necessary.” It was strange, but the old woman hadn’t moved much past the doors. Shale dropped from his stool, recovered the fallen blade and used his shirt to remove the dirt from it as he moved to where she stood.

When he got close she pulled the book from her sack, and put it in his hands. He looked at it in his hands, it was heavy and judging by the cover it was used. It was also the first thing he’d been given without a reason in a long time, and he didn’t know what to say. “...but, I have nothing to give you in return.” Surely she’d want it back knowing that he was unable to reciprocate. He held it out for her to take, not even having dared to wrap his fingers around it. It’d be easier to give up if he didn’t establish even that much of a claim to it.

“Nonsense, open it and read. That is gift enough in return.” Shale looked from the book to the woman and back. He turned away from her, opening the cover as he did his best to hide his face from her. He didn’t cry, he wouldn’t for any reason… not where anyone would ever see him. He was bigger than that.

Shale straightened his back, flexed his shoulders so hard that his spine let out a series of pops. He wouldn’t give away how he felt, not in his face or his posture. “C… c..all m..me Is..ishm… Call me Ishmael. Sssome yyyears ag go—nnever mind how long pre pre cisely—” Haltingly he moved through that opening paragraph. When it was done, his need to do anything but smile was gone. When he turned around, so was the old woman. She’d left as silently as she’d arrived. Somehow that seemed fitting to him.

The cabin, small as it was, loomed darkly before him. There were flickers of light, those caused by the flames in the hearth. They shuddered haltingly through the window and let him know that at the least, the old woman was warm in their embrace. He’d grown since the summer, not much but enough so that he could now reach the clotheslines over his head. Before he could do anything however, he was confronted by a small red fox. Its hackles rose, and Shale stood stock still. There weren’t many foxes near the village. There was only one near the old woman’s home. He waited for it to approach him before speaking softly to it.

“It’s okay, Aris, it’s just me.” The fox, the old woman’s familiar, seemed to relax at his voice. It came near and put its nose on him taking tentative whiffs of him before scampering about. He wanted to play, but Shale didn’t have that kind of time.

“I’m sorry, I just came to deliver something. I’m just going to hang it here, you make sure she finds it. Don’t let Corbul Regina have it… Okay?” Shale dug his fingers into his pocket, felt a bit of leather and drew it forth. It was a well woven length, one he’d taken great pains to do correctly. He’d been forced to undo his work a number of times to remove flaws in the weave. Attached to it was a medallion the size of his palm. The low grade steel disk was carved flawlessly into the shape of a seal leaping from the depths of the ocean. He’d have given her something better, but he’d used only what was his. It wasn’t the only one he’d made, the metal coming from farmers, or from their plow horses to be more precise.

Grimm had shown him how to change and fit new shoes to horses. Shale didn’t like horses, they were big and clumsy and liked to bite him. The farmers never seemed to want to keep the old shoes, but Grimm had laid claim to any of those that came back with Shale. The old nails were another story. Shale had begun to save the old ones, though he had no idea at the time what he’d use it for. It had taken months to get enough scrap from them to do anything with. Even once he had it there was more work involved in turning the thin bits of metal into something workable. He managed to make the metal a little better, sweeping up the dust left behind by the coal until he had a handful to add to the crucible he’d used to melt down the nails into a single piece. It was hardly enough, but it was the best he had to offer. He’d carved it with his own hands, polished the metal to as gleaming as it would ever get. There was more to it than met the eye, embedded in the metal and that particular configuration was something more. It would give her an added resistance to the waters of the river.

Shale tied the necklace tight enough that even the great black birds wouldn’t be able to free it. Then he knelt to give Aris a few good strokes. “I see how hard it is for her now, to brave the river. It’ll help her, when I’m not there to help her, so make sure she gets it.” Aris tried to lay at his feet, Shale would gladly have spent another hour just petting the fox’s soft fur. He didn’t have time for that. “I need to go, there’s work that needs to be finished.” He gave the animal a last scratch behind its ear, grinning at the gray muzzle as it seemed to smile back at him.

Disorder greeted him when he returned. Shale had left the fox, left the medallion and the shack all behind, hurrying back to the forge as quickly as he could. He could hear the strange song of the fire inside long before entering. He’d never heard it so erratic, at least not since he’d figured out how to properly bank the coals. When he entered the barn the forge was not as he’d left it. The coals were shoved haphazardly into the base of the furnace. His sleeping space had been completely torn apart, and Grimm stood scowling at him holding up a small round object in one hand, and his book in another.

“I won’t have a thief living beneath my roof boy.” Grimm’s emphasis on one word made things very clear to Shale. The man meant to kill him.

“I didn’t steal nothin’ Master Grimm.” Shale said the words as simply and matter of factly as he’d once told the big smith that he’d been gone too long and he knew it. He didn’t lie to Grimm because the truth or lie didn’t matter to the man. It was always better to tell the truth in those circumstances.

“Explain this then boy.” Grim thrust out the amulet, the second he’d made and left for Day’lien to find. It was of a size with the old woman’s, cut from the same hunk of metal that he’d managed to form in the crucible. This one held the face of a wolf, the animal of the clan. That it held certain enhancements designed to protect Day from Grimm’s anger would be less visible. It was also a double edged sword it seemed as finding it had directed that ire towards Shale instead.

“That was my metal, I earned it from the farmers in the village.” He still told Grimm the truth, he had earned it, it had come from the farmers. There was only one service he performed for them at this point. Farrier service.

“I told you, boy, if the farmers don’t want the shoes they come to me.” Grimm’s voice dropped a full octave, and he stepped forward. “So you have been stealing… from me.”

“The shoes are all there, count them and divide your number by four. Every horse will be accounted for. That came from the nails… you don’t want old nails, they said I could take them… because it would keep the horses from getting them in their feet.” Still he told the truth, though now his chin rose towards the big man defiantly. What the hell was he doing? But, Grimm called him a thief, and he’d never stolen anything in his life. “I made that for Day. I made you something too, or well I repaired something.”

Grimm’s eyes narrowed in an angry squint as he looked at Shale. “Show me.”

Shale moved to the wall, and pulled free a heavy leather apron. It had been sitting on a hook for a long time. Shale had pulled it down once and noticed the pits and holes in the leather. It had been useless once. Now it was whole, if done in a patchwork of different colored leathers. “The saddle repairs I make, the farmers let me keep the scraps. I fixed your apron.”

Grimm’s expression didn’t soften. He pocketed the medallion and ripped the leather apron from Shale’s hands. It didn’t take much, Shale had learned that it was best to hold on loosely and never get too attached to a thing. “Good stitching, if an ugly pattern. I appreciate it boy.”

Shale was still wary, Grimm didn’t sound appreciative. He sounded angry, this was not going to be the end of things. “It was the least I could do, considering how much you give me.” That wasn’t a lie. It was, however, a deception on Shale’s part. How much, and the least, these things had meaning that was synonymous in his little mind. Still Grimm nodded and quirked a half smile that almost wasn’t cruel.

“From now on, nails come to me, scraps of leather come to me. You ain’t cheap boy, you eat more’n your share daily.” Grimm’s half smile became something more toothy and feral. “All of that doesn’t explain this.” Grim held the book out, the front cover open and the name scrawled inside was not in any way Shale’s. “I’m to believe that this wasn’t stolen either?”

A flood of things filled Shale’s mind and body. The biggest part of him wanted to run. He knew that Grimm could care less about the book. He wanted to be right, he wanted to be able to take it out on Shale. Where would he run to though? And could he deal with people believing him a thief? The answers were simple, even for his eight year old brain. He had nowhere to go. Running to the old woman would only put her in danger. Home was not an option, he barely remembered the way to the ocean, let alone back to Rhydin. All of that aside, he would not be known as a thief, now or ever.

“It was a gift…” Shale had started to counter, his argument well thought out. If only he’d been allowed to deliver it. Shale had been getting progressively stronger, despite the paltry rations allotted to him. It was impossible for someone like him to embark on this kind of work and not get stronger.

Strong as he’d become, Grimm was stronger still, and that was evidenced as he tossed the book into the flames. Shale charged past him, hands reaching, he didn’t care how the flames burned him, how his skin blistered with the heat as the closed around book and coal alike. He pulled it free doing his best to put the smoldering pages out. Grimm grabbed hold of his collar and threw him backwards from the forge fires, Shale dropped the book to the floor, the cover popping open as it landed. Flames licked at the pages in front of him, leaving only three words visible for a brief moment. Call me Ishmael, he’d asked what it meant, that name that was so hard for him to pronounce. God didn’t seem to be listening today.

“You’re so stupid!” The words raged out of Shale as he picked himself up. He didn’t see the twitch in Grimm’s face, or the look of hate cross his eyes and mouth. He was too busy watching the story he had yet to finish turning to ash on the floor.

Maybe if he’d been watching he’d have seen what was coming. Maybe if he’d seen it he could have avoided the fist that connected solidly with his face. Instead he went down to the floor as well, and Grimm was quick to follow him and drive home another reminder. Shale didn’t even try to fight, it wasn’t worth it anymore. He just wanted to be as dead as his parents.

Warmth intervened itself between Shale and Grimm. A small furry mass that darted in and sprawled across him, a moist tongue tickling at his cheek. He barely had time to register the sensation when the room seemed to surge with power and a voice crackled across the air like a whip.

“Congratulations, you’ve beaten a boy senseless. Such a great feat for a man of your size and stature. I’m certain it will only add to your esteem, Guter Schmied Grimm.” Shale squeezed his eyes shut. His hands burned, but he wouldn’t feel them. His face hurt, but he refused to sob. His punishment at his master’s hands seemed to have stopped, but he refused to hope. Hope was not a friend of his, and she never would be. Hope began and finished with only one thing for Shale Shattersword, pain.

There were hands on him now, thin hands with bony and slightly gnarled fingers. They soothed their way across his face, they were the kindest hands he’d ever known, yet she shouldn’t be here. He would only make trouble for her too. That was what he did; he shook his head, or thought he had at least, he refused to open his eyes and break whatever dream this was. Shale opened his mouth, intent to send her away. He was rewarded by a single finger across his lips, and a soft sussing noise. “Sleep now, you’ve done enough for one day. You’re unstoppable.”

Shale did his best to resist the voice. He was nearly successful too, until Aris moved a little higher on his frame and chittered a bit into his ear. He dreamed of raised voices, not just from people but from the elements as well. They made no sense to him, and try as he might, know as he did that something important had been said or done, Shale remembered none of it.
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Re: I Am Shale

Post by Kruger »

Get Up

When your body's screaming out
Get up
And your hope is fading now
Get up
And the light is dimming down
Get up
And your strength is waning
Raise your eyes, Tell your mind
To lift yourself, One more time
~ All Good Things

Change is good. Shale had heard that before, but in his experience change was rarely a good thing. Maybe they didn’t mean all encompassing changes, yet even the small ones seemed to be a razor’s edge and he had clumsy fingers. There had been change since Yule, and not all of it was bad. He saw more of Elle an'allein, a lot more, she and Grimm seemed to have come to some understanding where Shale was concerned. Three days a week he would spend time with her, and she would teach him things she insisted that he would need to know. Two of those days their time was only a few hours between when the sun was going down until full dark. The third was Sabbath, and Shale spent the entire day with her and Aris.

Grimm was the razor, he’d become unpredictable in the year and a half since Elle had stopped the man. This change was not so good. Before, at least, Shale always knew who would be coming to the forge in the morning. Now it was impossible to tell from one day to the next. Nothing was different on those days that Grimm couldn’t be satisfied. Shale still took his share of discipline, more than his share some would say. It wasn’t always that way, he’d learned a lot and now assisted in almost every piece that Grimm put out. Some things he’d even taken over for himself. Remaking the shoes for the horses had been the beginning, but ferrier work was just a small part of what Grimm did. Most of it was mundane, and Grimm grumbled his way through it. The bladeworks were what really held his interest. On those days, Shale’s master seemed to almost forget that he hated the boy. On those days, Grimm would manage to last through several utterances of the question why from him.

Why, it was a byproduct of his time with Elle. Her instruction fueled his curiosity, and Shale wanted to know how everything worked. Grimm hated that about him too, often asking as he coiled up the whip on the way out of the forge, “Can’t you just accept that this is how it works and be satisfied boy?”

No. Shale never said the word, it was the truth but it was one truth that he didn’t believe that Grimm wanted to hear. He hadn’t been hit in the face as often, something that had been brought home to him one day when he was playing with Aris. The fox darted from one side of Shale to another as he rolled left or right. No matter what Shale did, the fox somehow managed to nose its way through his defenses and tickle him with her tongue. Shale was pulled into the fetal position from uncontrolled laughter. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d laughed. Perhaps Elle couldn’t either because she rushed from the little cabin she called home and gasped. Shale jumped up in time to see her hand covering her mouth, and see the glistening of tears in her eyes.

“I’m sorry! Why are you crying? I’ll stop, cuz I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Shale’s hands were shoved deep into his pockets. Guilt pulled at his chest as he looked at her.

“Shush now, you haven’t hurt me Nico… I just… sometimes your face is so beautiful it hurts my eyes.” She came towards him, and Shale had to force himself to remember that she’d never hurt him. Well, except for when she was putting things on his back. That wasn’t really her though, it was whatever she used in the paste she made. He felt her gnarled fingers slip through his hair and pat his head.

“Beautiful is for girls, how can boys be beautiful?” Shale’s life had a lot of uncertainties in it, but he was pretty sure that he was right. The old woman just chuckled at him and sent him to wash up and eat.


Anima Verus, the words were there to be seen, if you were looking for them. Few would be looking, not here from a knife made by a child. Shale loved the forge, the stifling smell driven on gusts of heat. He loved the sight of the metal cold or heated, the bell sound of his hammer as it rained down blows, and the drops of sweat that flowed down his skin tickling every part of him that it touched. He loved the soot and the dirt, the whoosh of the bellows and the hiss of steam as the work was quenched. He’d been at it all night, he’d been there all day, at Grimm’s command, the boy hadn’t slept since he’d begun the work on his first official piece. The amulets he’d made nearly two years ago didn’t count. They were simple little things that did no more than show he knew how to turn bits of metal into a whole. This was different, it meant something different to Shale at least.

The hilt fit his hand perfectly. It was made for small hands, if only to keep Grimm from laying claim to it as well. Shale had carved and stained the bone handle to a mottled brown. The flat of the blade looked like knapped Flint, or the way light hit stone beneath the surface of a lake. It was steel though, painstakingly created by Shale as he underwent the testing. The intricate work did more than simply hide the identity of the material though. It had taken every bit of talent that he’d had, but if someone were looking at it in just the right way they’d see that every line merged together to form the words Anima Verus. True soul, it was as close as he could come to what he meant. The blade was Shale, hiding its heart in plain sight, hiding his heart while proclaiming it boldly at the same time.

The testing had to be finished by the twenty second of August, Shale’s tenth birthday. Grimm hadn’t prepared him, that was the point. Shale needed to demonstrate his skill with everything he’d learned up to that point. He’d been observed through the entire process, not by his master either. Another smith had come from further north. He’d said very little to Shale beyond telling him his name Wulfgang, and explaining the test to the boy. Failure wouldn’t be tolerated. Failure would mean that he would no longer be instructed by Grimm. In part that sounded okay, but it meant more than that. Had Shale been one of the clan, he’d have returned to his home likely to return to a life on a farm. As an outsider, Grimm owed him nothing, and Shale knew nothing was exactly what he’d get.

Passing the test would yield other benefits. He’d be given the mark of the clan, and allowed to choose a name. Shale already knew what he wanted to be called. A name long denied him, that he still held so dearly to. The name that he used to fall asleep with as he repeated it in his head. Inside the forge, Shale was confident while he worked. He learned well when he wanted to. Sometimes he didn’t learn anything, the scars on his back, the ones that tore open sometimes even with Elle’s attention were evidence enough of that. Those things had nothing to do with the work, he picked that up quickly. He had help though, the voices whispering things to him as Grimm worked clued him into the subtleties that the master smith used. Shale could imitate everything that he saw, perhaps more importantly he remembered them as well. He demonstrated that knowledge to Wulfgang, from tending the fires and tending the brine to making steel from the sum of its parts.

Shale’s shirt was drenched as he presented the small knife to the visiting smith. Grimm had forbidden him from working shirtless as was his preference. It bewildered him as to the why of it, he’d never said a word about it if someone from Glanchester showed up to make a request. The old man accepted the offering, and took it out of the barn leaving Shale to clean up. He heard the door to the house close, a quick look outside revealed empty grounds. Wulfgang had gone to speak with Grimm, Shale didn’t know if that was good or bad. It niggled at his mind as time went on, no matter how hard he tried to fill the time with chores. Finally the door sounded again an hour and a half later. Nobody appeared though, curiosity had him going to the door in time to see the older smith riding away. He hadn’t even said goodbye, Shale had no idea what that meant.

Food came long before Grimm would show his face. Day gave him a smile, something genuine and maybe she was trying to tell him that he’d done well. She’d never reveal the truth through words. His plate was full, he’d never seen Grimm allow her to bring him this much before. This combined with the smile surely meant good things. Hope crept into his chest. He hated Grimm, but he needed him to continue to learn. Now at least he could force the man to call him by his name. Shale smiled back at Day secretly, he would relish that moment. He dug into the food quickly, Grimm cared little if he finished eating or not. If it wasn’t done by the time the smith returned to him, it would never be finished. Not by Shale at least, the pigs would receive whatever remained. Shale could take that now, going hungry for a day or two would end once he showed up to Elle’s.

Grimm appeared near midnight, in his hand he held the knife offering it out to Shale. “A fine piece, a little artsy for my taste but there’s no harm in that for them that like it. What do you call it?”

Tentative fingers circled the bone handled hilt of the blade. Tiny things that the handle slid perfectly into. Shale had given up on ever seeing it again. It seemed he would be allowed to keep it. “My heart, I call it my heart.” Shale’s eyes swept over the knife, he could tell it had been used but part of him understood that it had been part of the testing process. When he looked up, Grimm was at the forge, unbanking the coals.

“Turn your heart into a blade did you? Maybe you are to be a weapon smith then. Mine was called Gheară… fang.” It was strange to watch the big man working the coals. Something inside of Shale was nearly offended that Grimm would dare to touch what he believed had become his.

An iron was pushed deep into the coals, Shale moved toward the bellows chain but Grimm shook his head at him. “This is the way it’s done boy. Acknowledgement that you’ve passed the testing.”

Of course, Shale understood now. Grimm was all about adhering to tradition. He watched the smith work curiously. “I passed then? I’ll get the mark and be able to choose my name?”

“Aye boy. You passed.” Grimm had made the fire excessively hot. It was far more than he’d need to work that bit of iron he’d put into the coals. Perhaps he was about to show Shale something new?

Grimm’s head turned to Shale, the bellows still pumping. “I know what you’re thinking, but that name is not one you’ll be allowed. That was a name chosen for you by bearded little men. They are not clan, nor is the name.”

No! He’d been so sure, so cocky. The big man grasped the handle of the iron, and slid it from the coals. Now Shale saw what was on the end of it. The branding iron held the likeness of a great wolf, in its mouth was the all seeing eye. The mark of the clan wasn’t a mark at all, but a brand! “Take off your shirt boy, the brand goes on your chest above your heart. When the iron touches you, it’s okay to scream. Scream out your new name for the gods to hear.”

Shale shook his head and backed away from the smith. “I don’t want that on me.” Stubbornly he refused to even touch his shirt with his hands. Grimm’s eyes went from pleased, to insane. He bore down on Shale, who did the only thing he could think of. The knife came up before him. “This is my heart, my chest is empty. I don’t need that.”

“You would cut me boy?” The branding iron slashed down and out, knocking the knife from Shale’s hand. He scrambled for it, and Grimm caught him a mere six inches from the hilt. He rolled Shale over and started to wrestle Shale’s shirt up. Shale kicked and tried to bite the man, but his chest was bared and the iron was coming towards him. He grabbed hold of the wrist that held the branding iron and pushed it away as hard as he could, but Grimm quickly recovered, yanking his arm from Shale’s grip and pinning one of the boys hands beneath his knee.

Shale used his free hand, and grabbed the shaft of the iron, it burned his palm, but his hands were much tougher now than they ever had been before. He held on tightly, but the shaft slid through his grip anyway. Desperate, Shale gave a mighty shove. The white hot head of the iron was pushed away from his chest. A last minute reflex saved him from being blinded. He’d pushed the iron right towards his own face without realizing it. He lurched, and threw his head to the right just as the iron came down on his left cheek.

It was okay to scream, Grimm had said so, but no name moved across Shale’s lips. The gods would not hear his name and welcome him into the clan. For now, Shale remained a nameless boy, huddled on a stone floor unable to touch the place that hurt, because that only made it worse. Grimm sat back, with a look of utmost horror on his own face. He said nothing to Shale, none of the usual comments for him as he had so many other times. The man didn’t move, just sat staring at his hands with his mouth open.

Shale moved, he kicked his way free of Grimm, snatched up the little knife and ran from the forge. He passed the house, and drove straight into the thick forest running a path he knew like the back of his hand. There was only one place he knew to go, one person who could help. Gasping for breath he pounded at Elle’s door, knowing that the woman was long since in bed. He did it anyway, until the door opened and Elle stood bewildered in the half light of the fire within. Shale practically bowled her over as he lurched forward, burying his face in her abdomen. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, they were the only words he could form.

Gnarled fingers soothed their way through his hair. It felt good, at least until a fingertip found his cheek, and then the fire burnt once more across him. Shale’s head whipped away from the touch, exacerbating the problem as his skin brushed along her hemp nightgown. Flames ignited across his face, Shale let go of her and spun away with a cry. “It burns… Elle it burns!” nothing would quench it, he bounced from one foot to the other, jumped up and down. Shale did anything he could think of to try and get coolness across his cheek, but even the wind felt like hot coals against his skin.

“Nico?” Shale barely heard the woman’s voice, he certainly couldn’t stop his moving. “Nicovală!” That stopped him dead, shame filled him for acting like a child. His chin fell to his chest, and would have stayed there if Elle hadn’t put her hand beneath it. “By the great wolf…” The words followed a gasp from the old woman.

Shale’s head was in Elle’s lap as she put something on him. He didn’t know what it was, but there was a numbness tingling its way across his face. “Can you make it disappear?”

“No, that was done with an enchanted iron. It’ll heal, but nothing will ever make it fade.” She spoke softly to him, she was tired he could hear it in her voice.

“I’m sorry.”

“For waking me? I’m glad you did.” Her hand patted Shale’s head.

Shale rolled and sat up to look at her. He shook his head. He’d hated to have to wake her. “Not for that, no.” He hugged her one last time before rising and staring at the floor. “I’m sorry that I won’t be too pretty to look at anymore.” Shale turned from her, even with his head down he could see her mouth pull taut and her chin start to quiver. He started for the door.

“You don’t have to go back there.” Elle realized what he was doing, and she was already standing and moving to cut him off.

“But I do have to, or this is all for nothing.” Shale’s fingers closed around the knife he’d made. He smiled at her as best his numb face would allow him and stepped through the door. “See you in a couple of days.”
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Re: I Am Shale

Post by Kruger »

You Found Me

Lost and insecure
You found me, you found me
Lying on the floor
Surrounded, surrounded
Why'd you have to wait?
Where were you, where were you?
Just a little late
You found me, you found me
~ The Fray
“Where is he?” The voice outside of Elle’s home was easily heard through the thin walls. It pulled Shale from his scrutiny of the image before him. He’d seen his own reflection, in the water of the quench, though that hid details. He’d seen it in the shining metal creations of Grimm, though the bends distorted it making it impossible to see clearly. Elle didn’t have much that anyone would call a luxury, the carved wooden hand mirror and matching brush was the only thing that he’d ever seen that might be considered one. Its ornate expanse was a dark wood, the Great Wolf carved into the top of it. The wolf’s eyes looked forward at whomever was gazing into the mirror, its paws holding in the pane of reflective glass.

As Shale studied his reflection, he did notice that the wolf branded into his face seemed to be looking directly at the one atop the mirror. Was it his imagination or did the one on his face hold defiance and an ugly anger? It was ugly, and slow to heal. It was still fiery red and deep even now, long months after his hands had healed. It often itched, Elle said that meant it was healing even if it was slow to do so. The worst of it came as he stood before the flames, their heat licked at the brand making every moment burn as keenly as it had the night he’d received it. The salt from his sweat only increased Shale’s discomfort on a daily basis. He would shudder as the first drops flowed into the grooves and the capillary action pulled it throughout the entirety. Shale endured it silently, lying to Grimm that the unshed tears in his eyes were a result of the sulfurous emissions. Elle suggested that it was the perspiration that was keeping it from healing properly, causing it to remain red and hot with infection. She was probably right, it was always just that, an ugly angry red blemish that covered the space between eye and lip. Some part of Shale thought maybe it was just a reflection of himself. He was hot with anger, and now quite clearly ugly.

He raised his hand in front of the left side of his face, covering the destroyed portion of it while looking into the mirror curiously. Shale smiled at himself, doing his best to look adorable. It was difficult to pull off when that particular movement stretched the hidden part as well. He felt the tug and tear of a scab, accented by the liquid sensation of blood rising to fill the gap. He made it a point to smile as often as he could, no matter what it caused him to feel. Shale dabbed at the fresh red leaking from him. Elle would accuse him of picking at it again. She’d threatened to cover it so that he’d keep his fingers off of it. That was not something he wanted, oddly enough. There was power to the brand. It granted him freedoms he hadn’t had. He was now able to walk the village, and enter the shops to make trades when he had something of value. More often than not his thing of value was the work he knew how to do. He’d make things for the shop owners in return for the objects he desired. It was books that he sought most often, he read anything he could get his hands on, trading them back when he was finished. The mark gave him that much, though it drew looks and whispers as well. Shale didn’t know what Ragnarok was, but he’d asked Elle about it when the whispers began. It never mattered how silent they tried to be, he could hear their words.

“Georg? I see the almighty has descended from his tower of wizardry.” Elle’s voice snapped him out of his reverie. He wasn’t supposed to be here, or touching the mirror if he were being honest. He was supposed to be studying, the book still lay open on the table. He’d grown fidgety as he’d been reading over gods that were frightened, and a wolf that would consume the sun. It was all right there on his face, Fenrir as he consumed The All Father. The meaning behind the whispers had become clear, but Shale couldn’t help but wonder what it was people saw. He’d looked and looked, but all he could see was himself maimed. He lowered the mirror gently, doing his best to place it exactly where he’d retrieved it from, and went back to his place.

“You stopped sending reports.” The voice that had startled him was deep. Initially he thought it had belonged to Grimm, but now he could hear the differences and would have known even if Elle hadn’t spoken his name.

“You stopped answering them, and I’ve grown weaker.” Elle’s words were true, Shale had seen her strength diminishing. There were times now when he would, as covertly as possible, help her to coax the fire to life. “He’s inside, but I warn you there’s not much left of the boy you’re looking for in there.”

“Nonsense, Wulfgar said he was exceptional, beyond any he’d tested before. That alone indicates that my sending Grimm was the right move.” Shale’s eyes went wide as he listened, a lump formed in his chest that burned with white hot intensity. Before he could identify what it was the door was opening, its frame being filled by a huge man.

Until now, Shale had believed Grimm to be the biggest man in the world. He was certainly broader than the figure before him, thicker through the arms and chest, but Shale could tell that Georg was at least half a head taller than his forgemaster. A spark of recognition came to him, he had seen the huge man before, several times in fact. The last time had been at the test of fire. He’d only told Aemy what had really happened that day. They’d wanted him to see what he couldn’t, and nothing else would be good enough. It hadn’t mattered that he’d begged them to stop using the commands on the unseen elemental. That it was hurting every time they did. All the times before had been far less formal, and he hadn’t used the name Georg.

“Grandfather?” Shale tore his face away from the other, trembling as he hid the broken side of his face. The big man lowered himself to his knees, and tried to tug Shale’s face to look at him but he wouldn’t allow it. He squeezed his eyes closed, wanting more than anything for the other person to be just a ghost, or some strange illusion.

“Look at me, Shale.” That got Shale’s attention, his head whipped around to face Georg, eyes wide as he pushed himself away from his grandfather.

“Don’t call me that!” He yelled at the red bearded face before him, backing up until he hit the wall. And there it was, the slide of Georg’s eyes directly to the place where the wolf looked laughingly out of him. The gasp that came with it was nearly more than Shale could handle.

“Sha… What happened to your face?” Georg caught himself before repeating the name, Shale was almost grateful… almost. Followed so closely by that question, having heard that this was the man who had sent Grimm, Shale knew only one thing and that burning lump in his chest exploded.

“You did this to me!” The words came as a shrill war cry, they seemed to be attached to his entire body. Shale burst from his position on the wall, his fist acting of its own accord as it connected solidly with the nose of his grandfather.

The man obviously wasn’t expecting it, there was no way that Shale was strong enough to knock him over if he had been. Over he went, and Shale kept right on moving, blowing past Elle and her calls of Nicovală. The wind rushed past his ears, but it would never be loud enough to drown out her words.

“I’ve never seen him hit anyone before, even those who need it most. I warned you, Georg. You want to know why I am too weak to send reports. All of my strength goes into mending the boy. His bones require much convincing to knit. It leaves me with nothing but what the plants provide for the rest of him. Why’d you have to wait? Where were you?” Distance wasn’t a factor, getting inside the barn, and burying his head beneath the pillow he’d purchased, that shut away everything. Everything except the knowledge that his grandfather had begun this, and he was hurting Elle every time he pushed Grimm too far.
Last edited by Kruger on Fri Dec 09, 2022 5:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: I Am Shale

Post by Kruger »

]Just Breathe

Nothing you would take
Everything you gave
Hold me 'til I die
Meet you on the other side
~ Pearl Jam

“Are they your favorite?” It was unseasonably warm, everyone said so. Even Shale had noticed, though this was just his fifth winter season in Glanchester. Mid February wasn’t supposed to have people out in anything except the heaviest winter clothing they had. Even the night time temperatures were too warm for the season, despite the thirty degree drop from when the sun was at its peak. The weather had even prompted an early spring bloom. A lake of yellow had swamped the yard in front of Elle’s small cabin. A waving sea of daffodils trumpeting the coming of spring, even if it was six weeks early.

Every spring an ever expanding blaze of yellow would rise, filling the air with their sweet fragrance. “Not really, they’re more a statement than any like of mine.” Elle was being evasive. She normally answered any of Shale’s questions right out. This time there was more to it. She’d left him the opening, and maybe that was part of whatever lesson she had to teach today. She tasked him in this way quite often, finding ways to make him ask questions until he found the right one. What could it be this time, the right question.

He was sure it wasn’t the obvious one, why daffodils if they aren’t your favorite. That was probably close. Shale closed his eyes, and let the warm breeze blow across his skin and fill his nose with the scent of yellow. “I think I like them best of all...” There were plenty of flowers growing across the mountain village this week. Tulips in reds, pinks, purples, and yellows graced the front of many homes. Places that seemed to Shale, as he passed by on one job or another, to be much happier than his. “...because they aren’t cowards. They don’t look to the sky and pray. No, they look right at you and offer up their lips for kisses.”

Elle laughed, it made Shale blush and fall over into the bed of flowers. “What do you know of kissin’ Nicovală?”

Shale’s eyes opened, and he looked up at a sky brilliantly blue. “Nothing I guess. Do you think I ever will?” His work took him many places within the little community. He’d seen a lot of the girls in passing, or working under their mother’s keen eye. Some were quite pretty, others not so much, there seemed to be a point where they hit their most awkward and then turned stunning. He’d seen them, and pretty or not, they all had lips that he thought he might like to kiss. If only their eyes looked so inviting, or they didn’t spoil his reverie by making warding gestures with their fingers. If only his smiles at them didn’t make him look like hell in human form. They were like the tulips that graced their yards, pretty and afraid. It would take a daffodil to want to get close to him. The thought made him feel lonely. It made him close his eyes and try to feel the spin of the earth.

“Aren’t you a bit young to be thinking that way?” Her voice was amused, he knew it was meant to make him laugh. He couldn’t force one out, and there was a peculiar silence from Elle. “In any case, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about it. There’s plenty who like a scar or two.”

One or two? Shale started to do the math in his head trying to figure out exactly how many more than two he had. The heels of his hands pressed to his eyes and gave a hard rub as he tried to squeeze the thoughts from his head. He would think about it later, he always did in the early hours of the morning. The ones just after midnight when there was no one to listen to but himself.

“What’s the message, Elle? The flower message, I mean.” A small measure of success, one thought shoved away to make room for the original one. He’d managed, by not thinking about it, to come up with what he thought the right question was. Elle went silent again. She was quiet for a long time, coaxing Shale to drop his hands to the ground and push up to look at her. She wasn’t looking at him. She was sitting with her chin on her knee, looking forward towards the river, though it was impossible to see through the forest. That’s where her eyes were pointed at least. She didn’t seem to be looking at anything, or moving for that matter. “Elle?”

Elle’s head turned to him, almost like she’d forgotten he was there, even if her answer said otherwise. “Some answers need to be paid for, Nico. Are you willing to pay for the knowledge?”

Shale’s brows fell a little, curiosity forcing a squint to his eye that could easily have been attributed to the sun’s glare if pressed for the why of it. He nodded slowly to her. “I don’t really have anything to pay with…”

“Your name, my price is your name.” Elle cut him off, her voice snapping at him like the end of Grimm’s whip. She’d snapped at him before, when he wasn’t paying attention or was doing his best to procrastinate instead of studying. Shale bit his lip, though that did nothing to stop the quiver in his chin.

“I thought Georg….” Shale began again only to be cut off once more.

“No, Georg said nothing when he was here.” Elle’s look turned hard, she knew he was trying to get it out of her without giving up her price. “A secret for a secret Nico. That way we both have something to lose.”

It was his secret, known to a few but most valuable to him. How long had it been since he’d said the word aloud? How long since he’d heard it with his own voice. Facing her, with a choice in front of him, the thought of sharing scared him. Knowledge costs, to know something, one must lose something in return. To know everything meant he would need to give up everything. His skin had gone clammy with the idea of giving up that to anyone. He’d trusted others, and they’d hurt him for it. He reached out for her hand, but she pulled it away.

“Make your choice.” She wasn’t cold to him, but her tone said enough. He wouldn’t get another chance to know.

He wanted to know.

“Sh...Sh…” His body was trembling, like finishing the word would summon the hard fist of Grimm to put him to the ground again. “Sh…ale.” The word was barely audible even to himself. The final L sound was felt by his tongue more than it was heard. He hadn’t even realized he’d squinched his eyes closed until he felt her touch his hand. The sensation startled him so badly he raised his arms to protect his face.

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Shale.” Elle didn’t try to touch him again. She spoke soothingly to him, it was enough for him to dare to look at her again. “Do you know what family of flowers the daffodil comes from?”

She already knew that he did. She’d told him that and many things. Shale did his best to remember everything. He nodded giving a sniffle before answering. “Narcissus.”

“I have not always been known as Elle an'allein, but you knew that already. I was once named Narcissa, after the spring flower. So the message is clear to those who knew me before. As with all of the clan, our names grow as things happen. My full name, before taking this new one, was Narcissa liniei de Fenrir. Mama lui Georg, și Grimm. Bunica la Lumira și Isabella. Strabunicii la Șisturile.” She was watching him as he worked his way through the language. Much of it was easy, of, and, to, they were simple. The names were simple too, all save the last one.

Narcissa, of the line of Fenrir. Mother to Georg and Grimm. Once he’d gotten that far it was easier to infer some of the rest. His mother’s name was Lumira, but Șisturile was more difficult. Instinctively he knew that it was him.

Trust was something Shale didn’t do easily. Trust made him vulnerable, and more times than not that led to pain. Mutual secrets might make it easier, for him sure, but for her too it seemed. She hadn’t trusted him either, not with this. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before…”

“Hush now.” Elle’s hand covered Shale’s mouth, cutting off his words. “You think I don’t understand Nico? I do better than most.” It seemed to be an understanding between them. They would know, but neither would say the other’s name. She rifled her fingers through his hair, and looked at him with those light blue eyes that saw everything despite the clouds that were growing across them. “It’s not quite the same, your’s was taken from you. I gave mine up to be here. But let me ask you this, you silly stubborn boy. If a person calls you by a name not your own, he hasn’t changed who you are, so why does it matter so much what you tell the world to call you?”

She’d given up more than her name. The cost included title, possessions, it included family. She gave up everything, and took nothing from him, except the medallion at her chest. His gift to her, one that he’d yet to see her without even for a few hours. They sat there for a while, silent for the sake of silence. Perhaps she, like him, was reflecting on the things that were no more. Eventually Shale forced himself to move. “I need to get to the forge before he comes looking for me.” There was no need to say who he was. “I’ll grab some wood and take it inside before I go.”

Shale had rolled to his knees when Elle shook her head. “No, you go. I can get a little wood. I’m old, not helpless.” For all her claims, she held out her hand for him to pull her to her feet.

“If you won’t let me do that, then take this.” With the swift exuberance of youth, Shale bent low and plucked a single daffodil. He presented it to her with a smile that he hoped wasn’t too frightening.

“Charmer… go now!” Elle was smiling when she took the freshly picked flower. She gave his shoulder a little shove to start him in the direction towards the forge, and Grimm.

The sound of Elle’s effort to grab the wood came to him before he was even across the little clearing. “You sure you don’t want me to help? I’m pretty strong, you know.” He was that, there were a lot of other boys his age around. They still towered over him, but at twelve Shale’s shoulders, arms and chest made up the difference and then some. Another sound had him spinning around in a panic.

The logs fell from her arms, each hitting with an almost hollow clunk as they struck the ground. One or two still shifted, sliding along the length of another as gravity continued to pull them downward landing on the body of Elle. The flower was still in her hand, but she wasn’t moving. Shale was by her side before he’d registered that he’d started to run. The logs were tossed away from her, any damage they’d done was invisible to his eye. What concerned him was the look of pain on her face. The way she clamped her left arm to her made him think something had happened to it, at first. Her breathing was erratic at best. Shale scooped her up, she was much lighter than he’d thought possible, and forced his way through the door. He laid her out on the bed, and stroked her hair soothingly.

“It’s okay now, Elle… You just rest, I’ll take care of you.” He tried to convince himself that the words were true. He came really close, but things were just a little bit off. The simper in his voice for one, and the sticky tracks of tears on his cheeks. When had he started crying?

“Don’t leave me… Elle… Elle… Don’t go where I can’t follow.”
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Re: I Am Shale

Post by Kruger »

Lightning Crashes

Lightning crashes an old mother dies
Her intentions fall to the floor
The angel closes her eyes
The confusion that was hers
Belongs now to the baby down the hall
~ Live

Lightning’s electric blue blaze blasted through the darkness like a clarion call. It burned through Shale’s eyelids and scraped along his retinas like a razor. It wasn’t the first to have lit up the night. It was however the first that had made it into the limited scope of the cabin’s open door. Shale hadn’t moved. He sat cradling Elle’s head in his lap and wondering how he’d dared be happy for even a moment. She’d stopped struggling just before sunset, stopped breathing minutes later leaving Shale feeling more alone than he’d felt since he’d met the woman.

... you have no home now. You have no family either, they’re all dead. I’m all you’ve got…They weren’t all dead, for the briefest of moments he had family again. That was just a few hours ago. Here and now, Grimm was all that he had, and he was standing just inside the door. It had been his passage that allowed the flash from the lightning in. Shale knew he was coming. He was supposed to be back at the forge long ago, but he hadn’t moved. Crossing the field of flowers, Grimm had been angry. He was silent now, and something else that Shale couldn’t quite name. He looked up from Elle, his eyes accustomed to the dark falling on his forge master.

“You have to help me… please.” That was two things he’d never said to Grimm. The first had likely gone unnoticed by the man. Shale never asked for help, even when learning a new technique. He watched, learned every intricate movement in the push and pull of the craft, then he perfected it. The second sent Grimm shuffling forward to touch the old woman. Shale never begged either, not when the work cut into any free time he might have had, or when fist and whip descended on him. He did not beg for an ending to it. He’d fought the brand, but never begged from Grimm.

“She’s gone boy.” Grimm’s voice had a hint of what Shale would’ve called sorrow in anyone else. He didn’t believe the man was capable of it though.

“Bring her back!” The acid of his tone ate its way through the air between him and Grimm. Shale expected a blow, but none came.

“Even if I could, the person that came back wouldn’t be her. Best I could do would be to soulbind her. That isn’t something I think you want me to do. The souls get twisted in the forging, tormented to madness. It would break her, and then it would break you for asking it of me. Besides boy, the woman was a healer, and a good one. Do you believe she would want to be bound into a weapon?” Sympathy lived in every word Grimm had said. Normally Shale hated sympathy. Then again, normally that was not something the huge smith was capable of either.

“So what do we do then?” There was an ache, deep in Shale’s chest. It gave a somberness to his words that Elle would have called hopeless, and Grimm would have said was pathetic. Maybe he was pathetic, but he didn’t care. Elle, Narcissa, his grandmother…family, she was gone. He felt every bit as hopeless and pathetic as the two of them would call him.

That feeling deepened a moment later when without a word Grimm turned and walked out of the cabin. He’d left Shale to figure things out for himself. Not even the pleading had moved the man. Would anything? Another hour passed, and Grimm re-emerged from the darkness. He carried a lamp in one hand. The other held a pair of long handled shovels.

“We dig boy.” Grimm picked up the conversation as though it had been the only thing on his mind the entire time he’d been gone.

“You go pick a spot, and start. I’ll prepare her in the proper ways.” He leaned the shovels against the outside wall. Shale moved reluctantly at first, but at least he would get to pick where, and the digging would let him feel like he was doing something.

Gentle as he was with her, that medallion slid free of her shirt and dangled onto the bed. Shale looked at it, then moved to take it from her neck.

“It’s not right to steal from the dead boy.” Grimm’s voice held more than a warning. It held a promise of bad things that would happen if he tried.

“I’m not stealing. I’m trading.” Shale’s hand produced the still sheathed Anima Verus, the little knife that he called his heart. He pressed it to Elle’s chest, and put her hands over it.

The gesture got a nod from Grimm, and a slight scoff. “Turn your heart into a blade, then bury it in the mud. You are a strange one sometimes, boy.”

The storm that the lightning had heralded hit furiously. Rain drummed down on the ground, and Shale alike. The thunder peeled loudly across the sky voicing the intensity of the lightning it followed, still Shale dug. The place was her favorite, thickly woven with daffodils, and in the shadow of a large tree. The weather may have been freakish, but it hadn’t lasted long enough to thaw the ground completely. Shale continued in his labor, slowly pushing through the permafrost even as the hail began to pummel the earth around him. Wherever it hit him the place stung, but this thing he was doing was more important than any physical discomfort he might experience. Despite the noise of rain, hail and thunder, he heard Grimm inside chanting over the body. He couldn’t pick up any of the words over everything else, and maybe that was a good thing. He needed to concentrate on what he was doing, not get lost in yet another Clan ritual.

It went faster once Grimm had joined him. The two of them worked in silence until the hole was deep enough that the smith could only just see over the edge. Shale had to reach upwards just to touch it, and grudgingly took the hand that came down to aid him. Together they lowered her into the hole, her hands still holding to Anima Verus. By the time they’d finished burying her, the temperature had dropped, and the rain had become snow. Shivering, they walked into the forge, far too late to do any real work. The coals had been banked, and Shale understood what had taken Grimm so long to return. He moved to the bellows and pumped them a few times to bring new life to the fire.

“At least…” Shale paused for a moment, knowing what was about to happen if he continued. He turned to look at Grimm and did so anyway. “...she’ll know who to call when I go there too.”

“You told her. I’d put you to the whip for it, but you’ve suffered enough today boy.” Grimm’s expression was weary tinged with annoyance. He seemed ready to let the matter drop though. Shale had other ideas.

“No, you’ll do it anyway, because that is the cost and I will pay it just one last time. There won’t be anymore.” Shale watched Grimm’s expression go wide eyed in disbelief.

“You’re going to force me to do this aren’t you?” Grimm’s jaw set up as Shale nodded. “What makes you think it will be the last time, boy?”

Shale moved from the bellows chain to the leather wrist straps. Yes he was going to make Grimm do this, because he blamed himself for telling Elle, or making her tell him. He blamed himself for not insisting that he carry the wood. Elle was gone, and he was the reason.

“Two things. The first is because if you try again, I will kill you. The second is why I’ll do that. I’ve chosen a name, and by your rules, I’ll be within my rights.” He was shirtless when he finished, his arms held in place, his back scarred as it was facing the one who had made it look that way.

“Tell me the name boy, and we’ll end this.” Now it was Grimm who seemed to be begging.

“No, knowledge comes at a price, Master. This is yours.”
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Re: I Am Shale

Post by Kruger »


Cruel intentions
Wind me in a spiral
I'm waiting to unravel
Twisted motives
Drive me in a circle
I'm dying to untangle
~ Haelstrom

Even the clan made allowances for some names, those famous or perhaps infamous depending on your point of view. For Shale it was the quote so often paraphrased by Elle that he had latched onto. The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet. Knowledge costs, that was all he’d needed to understand about it. Whether that would bear a sweet fruit or not he didn’t know. So far it had only brought more pain. Still, he took the name Aristotle, with a twofold reason. The first went back to Elle, and the little fox that was her familiar. Aris did mean best and Shale felt that he was that, despite how rough his life had become. The other reason was to constantly remind Grimm of the philosopher’s words.

The act of taking a name, or in Shale’s case several names, was like so many things in the clan overly complicated. He’d needed to stand before the elders, the hand of Grimm on his shoulder like a loving mentor. Nobody believed it for a moment, but truth seemed to matter less than the ritual itself. He held his head high as he spoke, the nods and murmurs of the six men sitting before them a grim sort of acceptance to his use of something not quite clan. As dissatisfactory as that name was for them, it wasn’t quite Shale either. It was more of who he wanted to be, and less of who and what he was. He wasn’t done yet, and it was Grimm’s job to announce that. Had it been anyone else, the big smith would have been seated at the table. It was likely he would have preferred that spot to the one he held now. Strange thing about that would be that the Mentor was the more important position, only a step below the one being named. Then again, it meant standing next to Shale, an admission by proximity of the things he’d done.

Shale, now Aristotle, did not state his second choice for a name. To do so would only confuse matters. Instead he stated “I wish to be called the name of the river that flows into Abaddon, and past Sheol.” The men before him shifted in their seats, sitting upright and noting the name Kruger in their manifest. A good strong clan name they’d agreed, and stated as he had it would not be confused with the potter for whom the river’s name had come. There was more to it in his mind, he’d told Elle long ago that the river was constantly angry. Inside, Shale had become a true reflection of that. Angry at his confines, at the obstacles placed in his path and eager to destroy them all in his wrath. That was the part for him, the rest was because it made him feel just a little closer to her.

For his final request, Shale took a variation of an'allein. It meant to walk alone, and he did feel alone. More than that he felt lost, the very act of choosing a name made him that. It made Shale, the boy who’d come here with Grimm, lost. Grumble about his choice they did, even Grimm’s grip tightened vice like on his shoulder. They wouldn’t change his mind. He would now be Aristotle, also known as Kruger, also known as Allen, and the proclamation brought the most ironic quirk to the corners of his mouth. “I am, who I have been created to be. All that I was is gone, lost to time and memory.” If only those words rang true, Shale still hid inside of him, huddled in a dark corner chanting his name like words of power. Nicovală, still wrapped itself around the boy, keeping him safe and stiffening Aristotle Kruger Allen’s resolve. They’d given him what he’d asked for, grudgingly welcomed him to a clan that he knew would treat him no differently than it had when he was nameless. They’d given him more, informing him that Elle had seen to it that her place and everything in and around it went to him. He’d have preferred to have her back. Some things were just not possible.


It was hard to tell which was more uncomfortable, the knee in his back, or the violent yank to his hair. The difficulty for Kruger came not from the pain. He’d endured much worse in his time, but from the blade at his throat. He’d been having such a good dream, despite his position on the floor of the cabin, though the details were less than shadows now. It probably didn’t matter anyway, the good usually only lasted until his eyes opened.

“What did you do to the woman who lives here?” There was a heavy growl to the clearly feminine voice next to his ear, it did little to hide the strangeness of her accent. In a place where every word spoken sounded like torn fabric, even the heat in her voice couldn’t make her sound like anything less than the sigh of a breeze through silk.

He said nothing, even as the blade’s edge started to bite into him. The sting brought an odd longing to him, a small smile moving across his face. Part of him wanted to lean into it harder, to join the dead that he so wanted to see once more. It would be so easy, and no one would care in the end. He could feel Elle’s disapproval, and knew she would say it was too easy and completely out of his character. She’d be right too.

“The woman, Elle, talk now, or be silent forever!” Her knee pressed deeper, and the pull on his head increased.

His hand went to the wrist holding the knife, and pushed. He must have moved faster than she’d expected because somehow he wasn’t gurgling in his own blood. She pushed against his grip, but was no match for him. Still he said nothing, rolling instead against her knee and pulling her arm until she collapsed and he was over her, the knife arm across her torso and pressed harmlessly to the floor. Her eyes, emerald green so deep it almost hurt to look at them, were wide with surprise but not fear. If anything he’d have called it rage, and he was at a loss of how she managed to make both so clearly visible. Her hand was still in his hair, pulling harder now than at any point before. It didn’t have the desired effect, Kruger pulled right back, tearing free of her grip at the loss of a handful of strands.

“Feeling better I see. As I told you several times already, she’s gone, buried outside. You were feverish, so I can forgive you for not remembering, but it’s not my favorite thing to say. I’d appreciate it if this time you do. Now, stop struggling or you’ll open that cut up and we’ll have to start this all over again.” She had been fighting him, twisting to try and break free of him. Had she been whole, it was likely she would have.

Her hair was dark as a raven’s wings if tangled, and lackluster. Her skin was pallid, almost sickly, though not unexpected considering what she’d been through. The splotchiness was still an improvement from what it had been. Her lips were pouty, Kruger found his eyes drawn to them only to embarrassedly tear his gaze away when she caught him looking.

“I’m going to let you up, but first you need to let go of the knife.” He didn’t look away from her until he heard metal hit the floorboards. Quick fingers plucked it from reach and threw it across the room. It crossed his mind that he should have kept it, but then she’d be no different than he had. A victim with no reason to trust.

Her eyes held something else now, horror. Not the kind that came from fear, but the kind that was born of disgust. He averted his eyes from her, it was a look he received often and it ached almost as badly as the memory.

Pushing up from the floor, he got just a glimpse of a bare hip; that was when the slap came. “How dare someone like you touch me?” Venom, a verbal attack that really meant nothing to him beyond knowing that she felt revulsed by the prospect of his touch.

“And what the hell am I wearing? It’s coarse, cheap fabric makes me itch….”

“It’s the best I have! If you don’t like it, take it off!” Her hand print burned across his cheek and was quickly followed by a second at his outburst.

He gritted his teeth and walked away from her. “You’re right, I should have just let you bleed to death in the rain. I’m sure that’s preferable to being touched by me.” What did she expect out of him? Venomous words yield poisonous results. He felt bad for letting her get to him, if not that, then for giving in to the urge to battle back.

“Where are my clothes?” Her superior tone smacked against Kruger’s back. He bit his tongue and pointed toward the door leading out.

“What’s left of them is out there, hanging. I was going to try to mend them while you were sleeping.” She moved quietly towards the door at his direction. He could feel her looking at him, as though he would try to stop her from leaving.

Had I known this was how you were, I’d never have brought you in. The thought was a lie, when he saw her laying in the woods his first and only instinct had been to get her where it was warm and safe. He’d have missed her entirely if Aris hadn’t darted across his path, and nearly tripped him. He still saw the fox now and again, never knowing what kept it from moving on. He hadn’t expected her to be badly cut, or feverish with infection. She’d been so hot he felt it through his own clothing. He’d gone to the apothecary, he didn’t need to ask for anything, no one would suspect his needs were for anyone but himself. They all knew the things that happened. Doing something about it, to them, seemed to mean giving him the means to survive. She’d been far lighter than he expected, especially considering the armor she wore. Plated leather, a solid looking helmet, decorated in filigree by a very delicate hand. He’d spent a good deal of time admiring that, and the sword that had been attached to her hip. He’d had the good sense to keep that hidden. He was pouring a cup of water for himself when the door opened and closed once more.

“The shirt is ruined, so I’ll be keeping this one.” Her voice cut the air again, had he really thought it sounded like silk and wind earlier? Harpy was more like it. “I’ll also require you to fetch me some, what is that… water? Quickly, slave.”

Someone like you… those words now had an entirely different meaning to Kruger. Slowly he turned back to the pitcher, pouring out another ceramic cup’s worth. He carried it carefully across the room and held it out, but when she reached for it he threw the contents into her face. “I’m no one’s slave, that includes you. Use those prettily pointed ears, and listen close. You may call me,” Shale “Aristotle, or…” Shale “Kruger…” It had been over a year since his naming, and still he found it hard not to say his given name. That likely had a lot to do with having very few people who talked to him at all beyond what he was in the market for, or whatever job they needed him to perform.

Her hands went to her face, wiping the water from eyes that had gone moon wide and were accompanied by a mind melting shriek. Her hand curled into fists, but Kruger caught her wrists in his hands again. “I’ll let you hit me again, but then it’s my turn to hit you.”

“Do you know who I am?” Since the shrieking hadn’t managed to do anything, the elven woman moved to menacing tones again.

“I know exactly who you are, Aludariel Sun’vael. The entire village knows who you are, Wind Cutter. I’m the only one who knows where you are, because I don’t know if the people offering reward are the ones that tried to cut you in half.” It had taken a day for the men to arrive, less than that for rumors to wash through Glanchester like the river coming over its banks. He let her arms go and walked away to pick the cup up from where he’d dropped it.

“Something else I know, you should consider using a bit more water… and some soap, because frankly you smell offensive.” The cup was slammed onto the table, and adding injury to insult Kruger pulled a washbasin out and a bar of soap. “I hope you’ll take advantage, I’ve got work to do.” He stomped into his shoes and walked out the door, leaving her to be as loud or quiet as she wanted. He’d only considered it a mistake after he heard the pair of ceramic mugs explode.
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Re: I Am Shale

Post by Kruger »


I'm jealous of the wind
That ripples through your clothes
It's closer than your shadow
Oh, I'm jealous of the wind
~ Labrinth

Kruger stepped on the shards of the shattered mugs. It wasn’t the only thing she’d destroyed, books littered the floor as well. Clearly Aludariel had a temper, and wasn’t ashamed of using it. She’d used the washbasin too, there was a soapy haze to the water that could mean nothing else. He said nothing, the destruction of his things meant little to him. She had taken up place on his bed again, apparently having found something among the once shelved books to read. She didn’t look up as he came in, or she’d have noticed the sheathed sword he carried in his hand. He laid it on the disheveled table, and went to fetch a broom so he could begin to straighten the place.

Aludariel laid with her back to him, he’d made enough noise for her to know he was there. Her freshly washed hair had been brushed to a sheen so well that even the scant light was reflected in it. That detail stuck out at him, his fingers tightened around the broom’s handle so hard he could feel his knuckles straining.

“What did you do?” The woman didn’t stir in the least to his question or his voice. Kruger hurled the broom across the room to bounce off the far wall, and fall to the floor in front of her. That got her attention.

“I thought that would be obvious, even to someone as dull as you seem to be.” She bit right back at him. “I suppose you expect the infirmed to clean it up now?”

“No! Not that!” He moved through the bedroom to the tiny dresser, or to the wooden box that was the only thing on top of it. He opened it as carefully as his rage filled fingers would allow, and looked at the contents. Three things were cradled inside, two of them were supposed to be there, a wooden mirror carved with wolves, and a matching brush. The long dark strand of hair still woven through the bristles did not, and it hadn’t been there long.

“What right did you have to touch this?” His calloused fingers twisted the strand around them and pulled it from the brush. He closed the lid and turned to her holding up the damning evidence. “If you’d wanted one, I’d have gone to get it for you! I’d have stopped what I was doing and gone! I… you…. UGH!” Kruger couldn’t think straight enough to form words, and he could tell by the look on her face that whatever he looked like suddenly had her scared.

His hand reached behind him and jerked the box from the dresser. He moved, and she flinched but he wasn’t moving towards her. He was moving towards the front door once more. “You had no right!” The words punctuated by a loud slam of the door. He cut through the front yard and stopped falling to his knees before the stone that marked Elle’s grave. He’d moved it himself, pulled it from the river despite the strong current, and dragged it bodily to this place. He’d chiseled her name into it, though there was no date. He was no stranger to carving, though his material was steel. There was no poetry in the words he’d put there, Elle an'allein was neatly carved above Also known as Narcissa. Beneath that something more personal to him was driven into the stone. Also known as Strabunicii.

Kruger set the box on the ground between himself and the headstone, opening it carefully and pulling free the mirror. He looked into it for a long time, hoping to get a glimpse of a face that didn’t belong to him. There was only him though, his branded face only made uglier by the angry scowl that pulled his brows down so hard they creased over his nose. When the image did finally change, it wasn’t the face he was expecting.

“Nicovală…” The voice called to him, and for the briefest of moments he thought it was her. The mirror showed him the truth though. Aludariel stood paces from him, and he’d never even sensed her. He should have known by the sound that it was not Elle. “You’re him, right?”

Kruger couldn’t breathe, it was something he hadn’t expected to hear ever again. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard. ...what do you know of kissin’, Nicovală? ...Nothin’ I guess… “Nobody calls me that anymore.”

She’d moved again, close as she was he should have heard her. Even if he hadn’t the wind would have told him. Instead he was unaware until she’d touched his back. The touch had him flinching away from her as if her hand were a thousand degrees. He didn’t look at her, didn’t know what to do besides sit there and tremble like a cornered animal. He looked back at his moment of entry into the cabin. Broken ceramic, books everywhere… all but the one she was reading. “You read her journal too?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know how…important it would be to you.” The words were certainly the softest he’d gotten from her, but she seemed insistent on laying her hand on his back.

Kruger gasped in a breath of air and held it as that hand shaped hot brand attached to her arm was laid on him once more. “Don’t… Please! Don’t touch me like I’m important, don’t let me become anything less than hated. I’m okay with my curse.” Everyone who loves me, dies.
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Re: I Am Shale

Post by Kruger »

Broken Arrow

Ah 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 in 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, and 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 her 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 in 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, not 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 truly 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 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 begun 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, and 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 was 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 when Aris shot out of 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 thing’s 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 weaponless, without armor, 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, its 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 axe'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 to 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.
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Re: I Am Shale

Post by Kruger »

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 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 would prove 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 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 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, became 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 to steel 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 a 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 as to 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 judgment. 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 eagerly sheath it for 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 the 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.

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Re: I Am Shale

Post by Kruger »


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, continuing 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, or 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, 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 cutie.”

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 became 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 any questions 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 boogie 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 carried a plate of something that was definitely not backdoor stew. There were purple streaks at the corners of his mouth and he looked 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. Its 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, its 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, why would I ever need 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 out 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 your 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.


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 combed 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 own. 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.


“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’s shirt, 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 at 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 evenly distributed.

“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, your 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 Horus, Phoenix, Blind Justice…” More weapons appeared, though these were certainly not swords. Two great axes 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 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, you made me but like so many of those things my old master, you fail to understand what it is you’re making. You will work at 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.
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