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Great [Monster] Journey 35

RSanon Jun 14th, 2014 1,318 Never
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  1. A lonely blue sky peered down upon a much less lonely wheat field. Several men were out with scythes, their rhythmic swipes across the stalks like some ceremonial dance. Each man had his own steps, his own beat to move to, though all sweated under the dry, beating sun. All worked as an island--all except one. This man and his apprentice moved slower than the others. The man’s scythe swung with more caution, his steps more even and tender, hoping to lay an example for the younger one who strode behind him. The younger’s attention, however, was much harder to earn.
  2.  
  3. “Can I swing the scythe yet?”
  4.  
  5. The older stopped, letting the blade touch the ground as he straightened his back and turned around.
  6.  
  7. “No, Galen. I’m not letting you use a scythe on your first harvest. Just pay attention like I told you and if you can show me you have, then I’ll let you next year.”
  8.  
  9. Galen frowned, but didn’t protest any further. His father could get grumpy in the middle of work, and Galen hadn’t a mind to test him.
  10.  
  11. Hoem went back to his dance, sweeping across the wheat, and Galen shuffled behind him. His eyes went to the uncut wheat beside him, too still on this hot day. There should be a breeze running through them, bringing them to life as a golden sea, but all the stalks ever did was sway under their own weight. Or was it fear of the scythe that made them move? He’d tried to count the stalks once, but his interest disappeared the moment he lost count. It was like counting hair, hair grown by the earth itself. Galen absent-mindedly ran his hand through the wheat, letting his fingers slide over the smooth stalks up to the rough heads where the seeds lay. His dry skin almost felt cool against the wheat, but he knew it was nothing more than wishful thinking. A breeze or even just some shade would be a blessing, but the wind remained silent and the sky clear. Maybe the clouds had left to give someone else shade.
  12.  
  13. “Galen. Pay attention.”
  14.  
  15. Hoem had reached the end of the field and had turned around to start scything the next row of wheat, only to find his son staring off into the distance. An obvious roll of the eyes and dragging of the feet was Galen’s response, but he didn’t object with his mouth. His father let the scythe blade drop to the ground once more.
  16.  
  17. “I know this might be boring to you now, but it’s important, just as learning to cook, learning to make a fire, and learning to hunt are important. I should’ve had you out in these fields two years ago, but delayed because you asked. We all have to do our part--this is just another aspect of it.”
  18.  
  19. Galen’s frown intensified. “I know,” he grumbled, not willing to offer argument. He never won arguments with his dad, anyways.
  20.  
  21. Hoem paused, glancing behind at Galen for a moment before bringing the scythe to bear again. At the very least, Galen had dodged another full-blown lecture. He cringed when he thought about what his mother might say about this later. His father couldn’t use words the way she could.
  22.  
  23. Silence held the air between them for a while, silence but for the scythe’s whisper across the wheat. Galen tried once more to find wind in the air, but again it chose to be unforthcoming.
  24.  
  25. “This doesn’t look like as much as last year,” said Galen.
  26.  
  27. His father held back the scythe a moment while he looked over the field. “No, it doesn’t look that way.”
  28.  
  29. “But we planted over the same ground.”
  30.  
  31. “That may be, but some harvests are more giving than others. If the winter’s cold lingers into the spring months, or if there isn’t as much rain while the wheat grows, or the soil isn’t as rich, we won’t get as much wheat.”
  32.  
  33. “What if the cold never goes away? Or it never rains?”
  34.  
  35. His father stopped to catch his breath, using an elbow to wipe the sweat from his brow. “Then we would have no wheat. But such a thing has never happened, and I don’t expect it will.”
  36.  
  37. Galen kept to himself, only following his father as he scythed through the field. Galen spotted another man wielding a scythe further down the field, intent on his own work. Doing his part.
  38.  
  39. “It’s not fair,” said Galen.
  40.  
  41. “Nothing is ever truly ‘fair’; fair is just an idea men came up with. The world runs on its own time and by its own rules. We can work to make things just, to make them right, but ask if you ask for fair, you’ll never get an answer. This year we won’t have as much bread, though next year we may have more, just as we may have less. You make the best of what you get, and once you have, well, that’s something you can be happy with.”
  42.  
  43. “What if what you get isn’t enough?”
  44.  
  45. “You make it enough.” He lowered the blade one last time to turn to Galen, his eyes strained from either work or words. “Bread is simple enough to come by, but when you’re in a real pinch, that’s probably not the kind of food you’ll be looking for.”
  46.  
  47. ‘Strawberries, then,’ thought Galen, ‘I’ve always wanted to taste strawberries.’
  48.  
  49.  
  50. **
  51.  
  52.  
  53. Galen had the advantage of seeing his father first. Sitting behind a desk, the man gave his attention to scribbling something down. Short, jet-black hair melted into skin tanned from a lifetime in the field, hands calloused and grizzled from heaving hoes, axes, and scythes now attended a quill. And soon a sword, Galen told himself, should Medusuub not meet her end tomorrow or the day after. Even sitting, Hoem loomed over his desk like a tower, and while muscled, he still held much the lanky build Galen did. Galen spied his hand writing with much the same vigor he would approach anything. At the closing of the door behind Galen, Hoem twitched, and Galen knew his father’s grey eyes would soon come to his. Galen tried to keep it quiet, but he couldn’t stop a quick inhale, sucking up the nervousness he’d bled off elsewhere
  54.  
  55. Hoem only needed raise his eyes from his desk. Recognition flashed. Then, before thought had time to form, he was up, around the desk, and embracing Galen. The young adventurer was too shocked to react at first, and before he could hug back, his father had pulled back, leaving his hand tightly grasping Galen’s shoulders.
  56.  
  57. “Galen! Goddess I was worried! Where have you been? Why are you here?” His hands dug tighter with each sentence, as if Galen might fly away if he let go.
  58.  
  59. “Dad.” He grabbed his father’s hands. “I’m okay.” Any attempt to keep a smile to himself was squashed upon seeing his father’s face. “I’ve been traveling.”
  60.  
  61. “Where??”
  62.  
  63. Galen had forgotten how tall his father could stand if he wished. “All over. I landed on the mainland, walked to Silere, then--“
  64.  
  65. “Silere?! Why would you go there?”
  66.  
  67. “Well, after you told me all those stories, I thought I figured out where Toneruth was, so I wanted--”
  68.  
  69. “Toneruth?!” He squeezed Galen’s shoulders for a moment, then let go, stepping back and leaning against the desk. “You’d better start from the beginning. Tell me everything.”
  70.  
  71. Galen did start from the beginning, but he didn’t tell his father everything. Meeting the Kraken, then Seira, then the lamia’s pursuit came first. On the latter of those, his father’s breath caught, but he didn’t interrupt. Next came Sybyll and Silere, the encounter with the orcs, Fullsburg and the subsequent run from the city. Hoem shook his head at that, but was more prone to smiling than frowning, as much as he might try to hide it. The mention of a ushi-oni caught his attention, and he had a couple questions about her, but in the end accepted it just as much as the rest. How could he not? The tale of the trip to Mallus was much more disconcerting--to Galen as well, he still tried to keep those memories in the back of his mind--yet his father hid as much of his thoughts as possible. He wasn’t a grim man, or a stoic one, but there were times he could pretend just as well.
  72.  
  73. Galen’s words slowed. He wasn’t fond of those times.
  74.  
  75. He told his father about Poseidon and the voyage over the sea to Uuluth as well, but said nothing of his plans, other than, “I came here to repair Toneruth.”
  76.  
  77. And to that, his father replied with a hand on his chin, rubbing it like he might scratch his beard right off, and pacing around the room with steps more fit for a giant. Galen fidgeted in place.
  78.  
  79. “Why do you want to repair it?”
  80.  
  81. Galen bit his lip. “Isn’t it natural to want to repair a sword like that? I wanted to show it off back home, too, and it wouldn’t really mean much broken like it is.”
  82.  
  83. “Show it off? Do you have any idea what sort of things you’d get mixed up in if people or monsters found out you had it?”
  84.  
  85. “Heh.” Galen couldn’t hide the sweat on his face. “Yeah, I kinda do …”
  86.  
  87. Silence. Then his father stumbled back, sitting on the desk and placing a hand on his forehead. “Geezes, Galen.” Those sharp grey eyes went to the hilt attached to Galen’s belt. “By the goddess. This…” He dragged both hands down his face. “At least you’re safe now. That’s what’s important.” He held out his hand. “Give me Toneruth. Your craziness might have given this city exactly what it needs.” His eyes sharpened. “But don’t ever do anything like that again.”
  88.  
  89. ‘You walk a thorny path, Galen.’ The words were thick in his mind.
  90.  
  91. Galen’s hand went to Toneruth’s hilt, but not to hand it over. “I, I c-can’t, dad. I need it.”
  92.  
  93. “What?”
  94.  
  95. The warmth from his greeting had betrayed Galen to ice.
  96.  
  97. “I need to keep it. I can help the city with it.”
  98.  
  99. “Yes, you can. By giving it to me. I’ll have a proper blacksmith fix it up and we can use it.” He patted Galen on his shoulder. His left one. For some reason, however, it wasn’t aching. “You made it through a lot to get here, Galen. I understand that. But what comes next is too much for you.”
  100.  
  101. “I--“ How many times would he be forced to say it? How deep must the thorn be driven, how many times must it be twisted? “I can’t give it up.”
  102.  
  103. “Galen. You’re not making any sense. You said you wanted to help the city, but if you don’t give it to me, you can’t. And as your father, I cannot allow you to stay here. Today it might be safe, but tomorrow? A week? You need to go back home.”
  104.  
  105. “Then just let me stay here for today! I’ll leave tomorrow, I swear!” It wasn’t a lie, technically.
  106.  
  107. “What are you planning with that sword, then?”
  108.  
  109. “All I want to do is repair it. I am not planning anything else with it here.” The words came out carefully, precise, like his mouth was a quill and he was speaking as though practicing calligraphy. “Please. Just let me do this.”
  110.  
  111. Hoem stared at his son, breathing so carefully to not disturb the balance tipping in his head. Telling Galen not to leave on his journey back when they were on Nox was black and white. That decision was simple. But now that they were both here, and Galen had proved himself through everything that brought him here, the balance would not settle so easily.
  112.  
  113. ‘It’s just a day,’ thought Galen. ‘Just a blacksmith.’
  114.  
  115. Eternity slipped into that space between Galen’s request and his father’s answer. Galen heard his heartbeat thump through his ears, felt his palms grow sweaty and heat permeate his body. Eternity was every bit as long as he feared, but his father’s words put an end to it.
  116.  
  117. “One day. Then you’re leaving.”
  118.  
  119. Galen’s grin spread across his face in an instant. He clapped his hands together, saying, “Thank you, thank you!” Pouncing forward, he wrapped his father up in a hug, squeezing as hard as he could before letting go. Hesitation gripped him as he stole glances as the door. He met eyes with his father.
  120.  
  121. “Go on, you’ve only got a day.”
  122.  
  123. As he ran from the room, Hoem collapsed back into his chair, sighing to himself.
  124.  
  125. “I’m getting too soft.”
  126.  
  127. The result of Galen’s chat with his father became apparent the moment he bounded from the room, all smiles and vigor. Mino became much a reflection of him, running up to Galen and hopping in circles with him, cheering over their fortune. Seira rolled her eyes at the sight. Galen laid his hands on Mino’s shoulders to stop her. A little celebration was fine, but he had a task to get to. When he spotted Seira, his grin grew wider. He ran for the door, but before leaving, he seized Seira’s paw and dragged her along with him.
  128.  
  129. The resulting gawk escaping her mouth could almost be called adorable.
  130.  
  131. “What are you doing? You can’t just drag me around like this!”
  132.  
  133. They’d made it all the way to the street before she freed herself.
  134.  
  135. Dremmond gave them directions to area of the city where they could find the blacksmiths, though he admitted he didn’t know if there was an ‘Edward Smith’ among them. Hadn’t been in the city long enough to know it that well. Nevertheless, Galen and his group made all haste getting to the blacksmith’s quarter, arriving shortly after the last of the day’s sunlight had faded from the sky. Sconces carry flame lit the streets, light reflecting off fine cobblestone the color of dirt and smoke. Unlike Fullsburg, Uuluth’s streets met at odd angles, some twisting and turning, others straight, and the resulting network made Galen’s head spin on any attempt to comprehend it. Luckily, all they needed to know was a few turns.
  136.  
  137. Galen’s spirits fell on their arrival, finding all the stores closed and most of the sconces illuminating empty windows. He tried desperately to find one beacon of hope before all the excitement he’d gained from talking with his father drained away. One was offered in the form of a lit window, a dancing light telling him someone was still awake inside. He rushed to the door, not checking if his group was behind him, and knocked on the door with and eager fist. Perhaps too eager for the time of night.
  138.  
  139. “The torch’s lit, isn’t it?” came a voice from inside.
  140.  
  141. Opening the door, Galen’s attention split a hundred ways at once. Hammers, tongs, tools of all sorts filled the room, along with pots and pans for cooking. Galen and the group had to squeeze together to keep from knocking things over and each step was taken with care, all the way up to the counter. A middle-aged woman awaited them there, fatigue plain on her face.
  142.  
  143. Galen placed his hands on the counter. “We’re looking for a blacksmith.”
  144.  
  145. A raised eyebrow and hollow smile marked the woman’s mood. “What a coincidence. You’re in the blacksmith quarter.”
  146.  
  147. “Wait, you’re a blacksmith?”
  148.  
  149. “No, I’m just bored.” She gestured to the room. “What does it look like, kid?”
  150.  
  151. Galen closed his eyes a moment. Now wasn’t the time for sarcasm and pointless questions. He knew what he needed to find. “Sorry. I’m looking for a specific blacksmith.” Was was the name the arachne gave him? “Edward. Edward Smith.”
  152.  
  153. “Well, I’m afraid I ain’t no Edward. But you keep going down that road toward the cliff’s edge, you’ll find him in a bit.” She crossed her arms. “Works and lives away from the rest of us blacksmiths, but maybe ‘cause he’s able to charge so damn much.” She wagged a finger at Galen. “I hope you got the coin for him.”
  154.  
  155. His chest tightened, but he nodded. They could work something out. They would have to. “Thanks.”
  156.  
  157. The group shuffled back out of the place, carefully as they shuffled in. Galen saw a sort of wonder in Mino’s eyes on the way out--maybe she hadn’t seen a proper blacksmith’s store before? Thankfully, she didn’t start playing around with anything. It was likely she knew exactly how important their mission was, despite the carefree smiles she still threw about.
  158.  
  159. Galen took the lead again, following the street the woman had told them to travel. Boots, paws, slime, and claws rapped at the cobblestone. Wind pushed at Galen’s back, as if it wished him to hurry. They passed many other shops, all closed or closing, and every pair of eyes that caught them ended up following them as long as they were in sight. More specifically, they followed the monsters. Galen had a guess as to why.
  160.  
  161. The buildings thinned out and eventually stopped and the road turned to a simple path as rocks began to jut out of the dirt. They were approaching the edge of the city, high atop a jagged cliff. Any building would be difficult to ground here, and a road wasn’t necessary with the decrease in use. Uneasiness settled in Galen’s stomach. Had they passed Edward’s place? Who would go out of their way to live out here? Would he even be open and awake if they found him? Galen took in a sharp breath, the scent of the sea filling his nostrils once more. Even up here, the sea reached out, whispering a reminder that it was still there, still close.
  162.  
  163. “Galen.” It was Sybyll. She was pointing.
  164.  
  165. A modest house stood alone on the rocky earth, kept even and still by a wooden base. It couldn’t have had more than three rooms, though for one person, that would have been more than enough. Outside the house but still under a ceiling sat an anvil and forge, as well as other blacksmith tools. The forge still glowed orange.
  166.  
  167. Galen started off almost at a run, but came to a halt only a few steps in at Sybyll’s call. “I think Mino, Seria and I should wait here. The people in town did not seem keen on our presence, and it would be unfortunate if we scared this blacksmith off.”
  168.  
  169. Seira shrugged and Mino nodded. Galen took that for acceptance, turning and running all the way to the lone building’s front door. The uneasiness in his stomach began to bubble as if boiling. If this wasn’t Edward’s place…
  170.  
  171. Three firm knocks rang through the hollow night. Galen’s hand ached from the impact, but his mind was too busy to note pain. A second passed. Two seconds. Time swallowed all sound, for only one mattered: a response.
  172.  
  173. It was taking too long. Galen raised his hand again, and again three knocks rang out, each as if Galen had intended to bust the door straight in. One second. Two. Three. Four. He pulled his hand back again.
  174.  
  175. “Wait jus’ a damn minute! I heard you the first time!”
  176.  
  177. Short scuffles and fumbling came from inside. Each approaching footstep brought Galen’s stomach closer to bursting. His heart beat like thunder, his skin burned as if aflame. Please, he pleaded.
  178.  
  179. The door opened with an awful creak and with such painful lack of speed--slower than any other door Galen had seen open. But it did open. The man inside stood tall enough to look down on Galen, his blue eyes squinting with weariness, though not a world-weariness like Galen had seen in the woman such a short time ago, but weariness of mind, as if the man hadn’t slept in days. The lantern he held swayed back and forth, making the tiny shadows of the man’s rough facial hair dance about. His build made his occupation obvious, his body slight and relaxed even when encountered with a late visitor. It had tensed a moment when looking at Galen, as if he had expected more, but that vanished the second their eyes met.
  180.  
  181. “It’s late, kid, and my eyes ain’t so great any more. You want something, come back tomorrow. I’ve got normal hours like everyone else.” His voice grated against Galen’s ears, as if the man had carelessly tossed it out for anyone nearby to hear it.
  182.  
  183. “Wait! Are you Edward Smith?”
  184.  
  185. “’Course I am. That’s why you came this far out, ain’t it? Tomorrow.” The door began to close, but Galen stepped forward and held it open. His eyes pleaded more than words.
  186.  
  187. “Please! This is important!”
  188.  
  189. Edward took another look at Galen, straight into his eyes, as if the rest of Galen didn’t exist. The lantern moved in closer, and Galen’s breath caught. Time again swallowed all but one sound.
  190.  
  191. “Eh, whatever. But say inside, where I can actually see. C’mon.”
  192.  
  193. He didn’t even open the door back up for Galen, letting him catch it before it closed all the way. Galen called to Edward’s back. “I’ve got some friends. Monsters. Is it okay if they come, too?”
  194.  
  195. Edward sighed loud enough for Galen to hear. “If they have ta. Let’s just hurry on with this, yeah?”
  196.  
  197. Galen waved for everyone to come in but wasted no time jogging in himself. Edward’s house was deceptively spacious inside. After a couple steps of entryway, it opened to a larger room--a workroom, from the looks of it. A bench lined one wall, tools kept in boxes marked with some sort of identifier--a black mark, a letter, or a word. Buckets were stacked in one corner and other materials were stuffed in containers under the benches. Edward himself stood over a desk on the far side of the room covered in drawings, shuffling them around for some purpose. Galen almost stepped closer to get a better look, but Edward pulled his attention back to the matter at hand with that gravelly voice of his.
  198.  
  199. “So, what’s so important to bring a kid here at this time of night and can’t wait till tomorrow? You know I’ll charge ya more if it’s a rush job.”
  200.  
  201. Galen swallowed and bit his lip. He had to say this just right. “I need you to repair a sword.”
  202.  
  203. Edward chuckled and shook his head. “Need me? To repair a sword? There are five other blacksmiths I can think of in this city that could do that for you no trouble. You sure you in the right place?”
  204.  
  205. Three others made their arrival known with a clattering of footsteps and the door’s distinctive creak. Seira stood right behind Galen, close enough he could feel the heat coming off her.
  206.  
  207. Edward turned around, lantern in hand and ready to lecture. “Now I ain’t had monsters in here for a while, so let me be…”
  208.  
  209. The words died in his mouth, leaving it hanging open like someone’d shoved an apple in it. His face drained of color, and the fatigue in his eyes vanished as if it’d never been there, replaced with shock that could shatter mountains.
  210.  
  211. The lantern dropped to the floor.
  212.  
  213. His words came out barely whispers. “My… by all… Goddess fuck me…”
  214.  
  215. Galen’s head spin around to where he was looking and found Sybyll staring right back at Edward, her eyes filling with a richness he didn’t think possible. He turned back to Edward, finding the blacksmith’s eyes glancing over Galen’s waist where his sword hung, a maneuver Galen had gotten used to seeing.
  216.  
  217. “Edward Smith.” Sybyll may have well been calling to lost family.
  218.  
  219. “Sybyll of Longhearth.” His mouth cried before his eyes could.
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