With a pair of tongs, the man removes a cherry-red piece of metal from his kiln and places it on his anvil. He pulls a ball-peen hammer from an apron pocket with his free hand, and begins to pound at a large dent in the pauldron, sending sparks outward with every strike.
Geez, was this guy fighting a ticked-off sandworm? How can you get hit hard enough to warp quarter-inch steel, yet survive?
Once the dent is virtually gone, the armorer rubs some ash onto the metal to provide extra carbon, and puts it back into the kiln to prepare the piece for quenching. He feels that the heat is starting to drop as he closed the door, so he looks over to the corner of his shop. He realizes that he's out of wood. That lazy kid... He walks over to a girl he had hired as a shopkeeper, and after paying her wages, offers an extra hundred meseta for her to go get more wood. As she walks out towards the nearest thicket, the armorer calls out,
Hahn, where you at, son?
In here! The armorer makes his way to his son's room and knocks on the door.
Could this wait until later, Dad? I'm a little busy.
The old man closes his eyes.
You better be naked with a woman in there, son, because if you're doing what I think you are... He throws the door open, and is infuriated by seeing his son reading a Calculus textbook.
Damn it, Hahn! You were supposed to chop wood today!
I told you already, I have to study! My entrance exam is next week.
Does it look like I give a crappin' care about some pencil-necks in white shirts? Hahn, you are an armorer! You're supposed to be learning how to turn raw metal into works of functional art, not who wrote the biggest line of bull!
This is a math book, not some random.... Hahn turns silent as his father simply glares back.
If you're not going to be here to tend the shop after I retire, then you're no son of mine. The echoes of his fathers words continue to sting as he walks back to tend the kiln.
Why isn't he down here yet? Hahn's mother is growing concerned for her son. She called out to him when dinner was ready, but half an hour has already passed without any sign of him. While her husband gets up to check his kiln one more time before he grabs another plate, she decides to see what's wrong with Hahn. She reaches his door, and gently knocks before letting herself in.
Hahn is sitting at his desk, vacantly staring at the wall when his mother walks in.
Aren't you hungry, Hahn?
The sudden question shocks Hahn out of his thoughts.
Wha-? Oh, dinner! He takes note of the concerned look on her face.
What's wrong, Mom?
That's what I'd like to know. Dinner's been ready for half an hour, and I'm sure you can both smell it as well as hear me. Something's on your mind.
Mom... Hahn knows she understands him better than he gives credit for, but still....
C'mon, you can tell me.
Mom, I'm just thinking to myself.
Now, if you don't tell me what's on your mind, I'm gonna go to the house of that girl you like, and I'm gonna start telling stories of your childhood.
No! Hahn begins to blush.
What? His mother coyly steps out into the hallway, and after searching a cabinet, procures an old book with the family name, "Mahlay," on the cover.
You know, cute baby pictures always make young girls squeal.... Hahn squirms at the prospect of being embarrassed so deeply in front of his girlfriend.
A couple steps towards the front door finally forces Hahn to react.
Wait! I was just thinking about whether going to Piata is right for our family.
His mom puts the album away.
I thought you've already thought this through, Hahn.
He looks down at his feet,
I know it's right for me, but Dad still doesn't want me to go.
That old fart? He sits in his shop all day, making and fixing armor for whoever's too cheap to buy titanium gear from the Motavians in the next town. You still have your youth, and you're old enough that you can do whatever you want, if you put your mind to it. Why do you want to learn the sciences, dear?
I want to be able to help people live a better life.
And I know your father agreed to take over the shop from his father, so he could help others protect themselves, which is why he chose to specialize in armor in the first place. You have a great goal, so you should do what you can to achieve it. That is all your father and I really want from you. Now, come get something to eat.
Hahn finishes filling his knapsack with various clothes and toiletries, and after making sure he has grabbed all the textbooks he could carry, he gently throws the bag out his bedroom window. He can't help but question the wisdom in what he's doing, but there's simply no other way to avoid further confrontation over his decision.
One more time, he pulls a small dagger out of a sheath on his belt, and inspects it. It's the first thing he ever made with his father, and the ineptitude he had towards metalworking shows in the crude embellishments and unusual curves, but over ten years later, the blade still holds a good edge thanks to what he had learned back then. He puts it back in the holster and straps on a hardened leather shield for extra protection.
No sense in unnecessary risks. After extinguishing the sole candle lighting his room, he also slips out the window, taking care to close it to hide his escape route. A short jump to the ground, and he makes his way towards a large house on the north end of town.
Saya is pleasantly surprised to hear knocking on her window, and doesn't hesitate in letting her love in despite the late hour.
Hahn, it's nice to see you!
Hahn drops his bag on the ground and pulls himself into the room.
The reason why I'm here, is to tell you that I'm leaving.
I thought that exam was coming in the mail in a couple days...
I know, but I can't stay here much longer. I'm leaving for Piata tonight, and I can't let anyone get in my way.
Saya looks up.
It's your father, isn't it?
I'm sorry I can't stay, Saya...
It's okay. We are all here to do something in this world, and your task just lies further from our hometown than mine. I can't make you neglect your own wishes.
Hahn reaches into a pocket and wraps his hand around a small object inside.
No, my timing's wrong...
I promise I'll come back whenever I can.
A silence falls over the couple. Hahn borrows Saya's pen to write a couple last-minute letters, and seals them in envelopes for the mail.
This is going nowhere, I shouldn't waste this moment...
I, uh, I wanted to ask you something... He pulls the object out; it's a simple ring, with no gemstones, but he had personally created it using a small bit of a strange ore his father had always kept locked in a cabinet, separate from his other materials. The metal has a rose-red coloration, but in the candle light it gives off a strange white shimmer, like it was somehow crafted from pure magic. It took Hahn nearly a month to craft the ring itself, and he spent another three to create the intricately detailed carving into the ring, two curved vines intertwined, forever entangled in each other, much like the relationship they shared since they were children.
He kneels down and slides the ring onto her finger.
We've known each other for a long time, and I know that I won't be able to be here as much as I want to, but I love you, Saya. I love you and you're always in my thoughts. No matter where I go, or what trials I face, I promise that I will always return to you, regardless of what it takes. I can understand if you decline, but will you consider becoming my wife? Saya doesn't speak, but the kiss they share spoke in a language universal throughout the world, and their embrace holds a love unlike any other under the stars. The answer pierces his mind on its way to his heart....
His resolve stronger than ever, Hahn quietly slips out the window as Saya retires for the evening and picks up his knapsack. With his heart racing and head spinning, Hahn travels towards a bridge leading out of town, only stopping at the item store to drop a couple letters in the mailbox inside for delivery tomorrow. One is to his parents, explaining that he decided to head to Piata to take his entrance exam, so he won't keep doubting himself. The other is to the Academy, stating that he wants to change his desired focus to materials science, so that he can help advance armor technology in his hometown.