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The Tzadikkus

Discussion in 'Reader's Corner' started by Sequester, May 5, 2018.

  1. Sequester Not the hero The Alley needs, but the hero The Alley deserves

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    Mar 10, 2011

    Chapter One

    The sun hadn't yet risen on the secret village of Machaseh, but not a single soul slept. For years there were rumors that the war being fought far from the village would eventually make its way farther north and all the citizens of the hidden village clan, the Tzadikim, would be pulled into the conflict. However, on that day, there was no more talk. An uncanny silence fell over the village as its inhabitants contemplated on their coming tribulation; events that would change the worlds of humans and gods forever would soon unfold. All men and women of the Tzadikim prepared their equipment and practiced their arts lightly, making sure to conserve their strength for the coming battle.

    The Tzadikim were not strangers to battle, but for the last 400 years they had grown accustomed of having the advantage of divine intervention. Until nearly 20 years ago, their fights had been strategically coordinated to prevent invasion. Their preemptive attacks would dissuade the advances of their enemy, the Esh. The god of righteousness and justice, Tzadik, whose intellect was unrivaled even amongst the gods, had always forewarned the Tzadikim of the Esh’s plans and the cruelty of their god, Aph Esh. Through the prophets Tzadik would advise the clan on the best course of action, and his tactics were always impeccable. However, after four centuries of leading his people to constant victory, the god Tzadik had gone silent.

    No one thought for one instant that Tzadik was dead. The Tzadikim still retained their power: the ability to manipulate water given to them by their god. History has taught them that when a god dies, his or her clan would lose the abilities they were blessed with, and eventually the clan dies out. The Tzadikim still retained their ability to manipulate water, each according to their level of proficiency. Some could only move it slightly, and most could form weapons from it; some adepts could even perform great feats with water; such as, ripping water from an enemy’s body, boiling and freezing it from within, and even calling forth rain. Since the Tzadikim had not lost this precious skill, they knew that Tzadik was alive and well, but what they hadn’t known was his reason for remaining silent.

    It wasn’t a rare thing for a god to stop speaking to his or her people. Sometimes gods only spoke to their subjects once every hundred years, and in extreme cases, once per millennia. Tzadik, however, was different. He cared for his people, and would often use the prophets to speak to them about small concerns. He loved to converse with the Tzadikim for hours at a time, and if it weren’t for the physical limitations of the prophets he used, he would probably extend his conversations for days. The Tzadikim loved him as more than just a god, but a friend as well. All of Machaseh would gather around when he was in congress with the clan leaders, and Tzadik would always take the time to speak to everyone.

    One day, two decades earlier, Tzadik had used the prophet for the last time. The few people who had witnessed it had noticed that their deity seemed troubled, but despite his beleaguered voice he remained as long as he could before departing back to the world of the gods, Bina. The prophet he had been using in that time, Onnis died four years later at the extended age of a 149 years old, which was a gift to the prophets from the gods for being used all their lives as the earthly voice. The new prophetess, Ilma, had not yet experienced the heavenly bliss of having the will of her god enter her and take control, and feared that she would die without the exhilaration of intertwining her soul with his divinity.

    The Tzadikim endured this near-godless state for longer than they were accustomed. It wasn’t long after Tzadik’s silence that the Esh began to grow bolder, advancing their armies further north toward the Kingitus River, where the village of Machaseh was hidden; enshrouded by mist, it stood between the flowing river and the Kaitse Mountains. The Tzadikim would not wait for their god to instruct them any longer; they decided to counter the moves of the Esh. It was vital that Machaseh’s secret location remain hidden, and so the Tzadikim began to formulate strategies all on their own.

    Their clan was amongst the smartest in Asiyah, the world of the mortals, as it was common for clans to share the traits of their gods. Since Tzadik’s greatest attribute was his intellect, the Tzadikim shared in their holy patron’s abilities. It was through this intellect that the Tzadikim managed to hold their enemy’s advances for 15 years. Through strategic battle, the Tzadikim remained victorious time after time. Their armies would march 30 leagues downriver and systematically cut down their enemies, slowing their progress. The fact that their battlefield was near a river and an ocean also aided in their campaign, as the Tzadikim could easily call upon the vast destructive and regenerative powers water yielded to smite their enemies and rejuvenate their clan-mates. It didn’t help the Esh whatsoever that their god had given them the ability to control fire, and given the nature of the area where they fought, flame was of little consequence as there were no forest to burn and the air was moist and cold.

    Although the Tzadikim had the tactical advantage, the Esh had great numbers, and their cruel god of rage, Aph Esh, to guide them. Slowly but surely the Esh would press their advance north. Their sheer manpower had spread Machaseh’s forces thin allowing the Esh to claim victories in key battles. Though their armies were by no means moving forward at an alarming rate, it still became a cause of concern for the citizens of Machaseh, but it wasn’t until the Esh had advanced as far as the wall of mist that concern grew into panic.

    The wall of mist, which was so dense that it would cause any outsider to go blind if they attempted to pass through it uninvited, was placed there by Tzadik himself when he had saved the clan from extinction nearly four centuries ago. In addition to blinding invaders, the mist could also disorientate travelers, and render compasses useless; people adventurous enough to brave it, would usually be subdued by fatigue after what seemed like days of being lost, and would awaken right outside the vapor wall discovering that almost no time had passed. If people with evil intentions toward the Tzadikim, like the Esh, tried to invade, the magic water barrier would reveal their greatest fears and claim the lives of all but the strong-willed. Usually the mystic condensation halted any and all progress north, but it had its limits and the armies of the Esh had been in such great number that the protection placed by Tzadik could not possibly affect the entirety of their forces. To further aide their advance north, the Esh had brought their prophet with them, and Aph Esh used his prophet to direct the Esh into the mist, and strengthen the resolve of his people. The Tzadikim had no small success in destroying a great deal of enemy units in the depths of their own foggy defense, but they had failed to kill the prophet whom was almost always in direct use of their raging deity, and though their numbers dwindled, they were far from defeated and too close to home.

    To the Tzadikim, the Esh’s forces seemed endless. Every time they managed to reduce the Esh’s number to a tolerable amount, Esh reinforcements would come to assail the fog and further their progress by pushing their prophet farther into the mist and closer to the hidden village. Aph Esh was much too smart to allow his prophet to be killed, even to the Tzadikim, and with their god practically leading them into the mist and their swelling numbers, the clan leaders knew it was only a matter of time before their home was discovered.

    The Tzadikim managed to slow the Esh for a few more years in the mist before the village was truly endangered, but when the invading army was less than five leagues away the clan leaders called all citizens of Machaseh to arms. It was customary for warriors and water adepts to do the fighting alone, but with their conquerors on their doorstep it was time for everyone to join the fray. Unetus, the clan leader, asked that the farmers put down their pitchforks, the scholars to put away their books, hunters to direct their arrows at the enemy, and the older students of the village to bring their knowledge into the war. Even the environmental controllers, whom were tasked with weather guidance over Machaseh, were prompted to let the freezing cold touch the village for the first time in 250 years when the great weather control machine was first invented by a Tzadikim engineer, in order to use their abilities to aid the cause. The engineers, who were the backbone of Machaseh, had already been recruited into the army years earlier when the Esh began to assail the mist wall. Instead of fighting, however, they turned their attention to making machines of defense and war. With all the new recruits it was important to regroup and prepare, so the Tzadikim withdrew their main forces from the mist wall in preparation for a battle much closer to home.

    Oigus, the youngest soldier in the Tzadikim’s army was not happy about retreating from the front. He understood the tactical advantage of regrouping far better than most, if not all, but he felt unfulfilled somehow. For the first time in his life he knew exactly what he had to do, and which direction he must take, and that path was not back at Machaseh while his enemies encroached farther into his territory. In lieu of fighting the armies of the Esh alone, he opted to obey orders and return to Machaseh.

    When Oigus returned, he learned of the plans to forcibly conscribe almost all of the citizens, and though logically he could see the imperative for able-bodied soldiers, in his heart he could not disagree with the decision less. He had to admit that Unetus’ decision wasn’t completely daft after all, the Tzadikim were all given battle training whether they were expected to be soldiers or not, but there was something to be said about the experience derived from war. Oigus had been the best fighter in his class, which was why he was allowed induction into the army at only 15 years old, but none of that training had prepared him for the savagery of the battlefield. It was only his natural prowess that had kept him alive, and it was only after a year of this experience did he understand the difference between a well-trained soldier and a battle-seasoned one. His concern did not stem from the idea that the new recruits would be useless, but from the possibility of the citizens of Machaseh losing their lives. He didn’t want the war to claim any citizens, which was the reason he enlisted early in the first place.

    Oigus returned to his home, which was huge, lonely, and dark. He walked through the double doors to enter his house. He momentarily considered turning on the lights, but decided against it. The hydropower tanks that powered the village’s conveniences were needed for machinery the engineers created to protect the town. While only the smaller moon, Velox, hung in the sky that night, as the great moon, Magnus, could not be seen at night for another three days during the double-full moon, the light was sufficient enough for him to navigate through the corridors of his home. Before going into his kitchen to look for food, he walked over to the ice sculpture of his parents. He glanced at his parents’ faces, and even in the pale moonlit room he noted how perfectly the ice sculpture captured his mother’s warmth and strength, and his father’s stern yet kind expression. As good as the sculpture was, it paled in comparison to the real thing. In the solitude of his home and sanctuary he allowed a tear to roll down his cheek. “Rest in the place of the gods,” he bid their souls. “I might be with you soon.”

    Though Oigus was famished, he decided he should probably remove his bloody armor and other battle-worn garments and take a bath first as he knew he would soon have company, and didn’t want anyone to see him with the blood of his enemies prominently displayed across his armor. Besides that, he could almost hear the voice of his mother from beyond the veil scolding him for eating with dirty—or bloody—hands. He walked out of the entry room where the sculpture was displayed and into the long hallway of the house. He passed the kitchen door on his right reluctantly, inwardly regretting giving his rations to a soldier who had lost his. He continued down the corridor passed his parent’s room door until finally he reached the bathing room. He opened the door, remembering not to turn on the light; he walked over to a huge alabaster tub. He focused on the air around him pulling the moisture from it and concentrated it into his tub. Many of the more advanced cities of Asiyah had plumbing indoors or aqueducts for public baths, but these were unnecessary luxuries for the Tzadikim, as their abilities rendered it obsolete. After the tub had been filled, Oigus mentally gave the temperature of the water a push upwards until the temperature was to his liking.

    He removed his tarbima steel armor and dropped it on the ground. It was very light so it didn’t make as much as a thud when it hit his marvel-tiled floor. He glanced at the armor momentarily and smirked as he recalled the amount of ridicule he received when he first invented tarbima steel, and how everyone in his unit wanted their own after seeing how well it worked on the field. If time weren’t against him Oigus would have crafted armor for every man and woman capable of wielding a weapon, but with an advancing army so close he would not have the time needed to complete even five breast plates, let alone the entire armor for the whole of the army.

    He stood in his bathing room completely naked except for a silk ribbon on his left arm. He had tried to keep it from attaining the blood of his enemies with little success. It was sullied now, but he made a promise to never remove it when he was but a child, and he never had except when he bathed. This time, however, he decided to keep it on in hopes that he would be able to wash the blood and dirt off of it as well.

    As he bathed he thought about the state of the village before he had left, and how it had been a thriving hamlet for knowledge. Machaseh was a hidden fount of knowledge in an otherwise vast wasteland of ignorance. Each member of the Tzadikim was practically a scholar in their own right. Any outsider that has met with a villager was always awed at the level of intellect and knowledge that person ascertained. This was all due in no small part to the educational facilities in Machaseh. No other clan, city, or even country in the eastern continent of Hinode had an educational facility as advance as their school, The Yada Da’at Academy.

    The Yada Da’at Academy was inspired by Tzadik himself when he first embraced the godless tribe. Tzadik being a god that embraced knowledge almost as much as justice, wanted his people to know and study everything they could possibly learn. There was no limit on what one could learn at the academy: linguistics, anthropology, astronomy, physics and even ontology were all available to study. In addition, practical use of water manipulation was also taught. Legends state that after Tzadik had created Machaseh’s writing system and taught them to read it, he would use the prophets to write books on all the subjects time allotted him. It was also said that Tzadik would use the prophets to teach classes in the great learning halls of the academy. Oigus never had the opportunity to sit through one of Tzadik’s lectures, and was almost certain that those stories were grossly over exaggerated.

    Although the school was an academic marvel, scholastic attainment was not its only purpose. Before the citizens of Machaseh were Tzadikim, they were a tribe of fierce, nomadic warriors. They did not lose this aspect when they converted the ways of their god, nor did Tzadik require it. Instead, the knowledge the academy provided allowed the Tzadikim to become even more deadly as their range of weapons they could use grew. The teachers of the academy also taught the students how to use various weapons from different countries and continents. Combative usage of their water skill was also practiced day after day, and teachers would reward students who were able to devise new ways to wield their aquatic skill in combat. By the time a student graduated from the academy, they were as deadly in battle as they were in a debate.

    Oigus thought back to the last days of the academy, and how he never graduated. Instead of matriculating with his friends, he opted to join the military early. When his best friend, Vohm, and his life-mate Lemme heard about this, they tried to enlist with him, but Oigus wouldn’t allow it, and devised a scheme to keep them from enlistment. He scolded himself mentally for thinking about them, for thinking back on what he did to keep them out.

    “Lemme,” the words escaped his lips before his tongue could pull it back. Then suddenly a flood of emotion invaded his usually logical brain. A tear would almost certainly follow had Oigus not rubbed his eyes to clear them of saturation. He heaved a deep sigh, and began to scrub himself, almost violently, as if trying to wash away the sins of the past, but he found that soap could not cleanse iniquities.

    After his bath he looked at himself in the mirror naked searching for wounds he may not have noticed. He would dress each injury—had an enemy been able to injure him—properly. Through a combination of his natural aptitude, his discerning intellect and ingenious tarbima steel armor he had remained unscathed. The most damage he had sustained was on his face from the ravages battle-induced stress and lack of sleep. Still disrobed, he walked over to his room across the hall from the bathing room, using his abilities to prevent any water from leaking on the floor or even leaving tracks with his feet.

    Oigus took a look at his bedroom for the first time in a year. Nothing had changed, although secretly he hoped there would be some variation to how he left it. His mother used to clean his room a bit anytime he went away for more than a day, and as illogical as it sounded, Oigus had hoped there would be some difference in the level of cleanliness. Moving to his dresser he found a clean pair of long undergarments he never used. With the environmental controllers not controlling the temperature and the winter almost upon Machaseh, he knew he would need these soon enough. When he was dressed as warmly as he could be while remaining reasonably comfortable, he headed toward the kitchen to see what he could eat.

    Before he could make the turn into his room there was a knock on the door that seemed a bit anxious. The person on the other side did not wait very long before barraging the door with another bout of urgent, very audible raps. Oigus did not need Tzadik and the prophetess to discern the identity of the anxious visitor. He was actually surprised she had not simply battered the door to splinters—which he thought she might still do if he did not make haste to answer.

    “A moment,” he called to the door as he walked over toward it. He reached the handle and took a long pause as he drew his breath, mentally preparing for what he knew was an inevitable encounter. Another series of knocks, this time louder, jolted him out of his fortification process, and he opened the door hastily.

    Oigus didn’t know how to react. He knew who would be on the other side, and he knew she would be angry, but for the slightest moment, he forgot just how beautiful she was. Her red hair, a rarity amongst the Tzadikim except in her family, flowed like a river of molten lava down her body. Her green eyes were richer than any emerald found in Asiyah, and Oigus couldn’t wrap his head around the idea that there just might be anything of greater value anywhere, even in Bina! She was taller than most of the girls in the village, but still much shorter than Oigus. Her slender form—to Oigus’ delight—had taken to becoming a bit more curvaceous in the year Oigus was gone, but his favorite feature of hers was always her face, which was usually very adorable, but at the moment her naturally pouty lips contorted into a snarl, her nose was flaring and her brow was furrowed in an intense glare. “Lemme,” he said her name softly, almost cautiously, as if the whisper of it might cause her to shatter.

    She pushed him hard, causing him to reel several inches, enough to enter his house without invitation, and without closing the door behind her. “I’m glad you’re settled in nicely, Oigus,” she called him by his name purposely, intending to sting him. Since they were children she had called him by a name no one else dare attempt to address him with. “When the legion returned and you did not come see me, I thought you might be dead,” she sniffed him, “but I feel much better now knowing you had time for personal grooming!”

    “Lemme,” he said, this time a bit stronger than before, in an attempt to appeal to her sense of reason.

    “I suppose it is alright though, I’m sure you were planning to get around to it, perhaps tomorrow morning. Oh, but why rush? You could easily come see me after lunch tomorrow! Or is that too soon? Perhaps you have a previous engagement. A sparring match with Vohm before a good round of ale at Piiritus’ Pub would have been nice, wouldn’t it? Perhaps after some drunken debauchery you could find the time to see me and let me know you were still alive. That would have been fine by me!” she pushed him again.

    “Lemme, my love, I—” but the sting of her right hand moving rapidly across his cheek silenced him.

    “You don’t get to call me that now!”

    Oigus was expecting this. Lemme, despite her current state, was usually one of the most logical and loving people in Oigus’ life. Her temper, however, was usually the bane of reason and the captor of her kindness. He couldn’t really blame her this time, however, Oigus had opted to come home and wash before setting his eyes to her—before she could set her eyes on him, but he knew the real reason she was angry had nothing to do with not coming to see her right away. He walked over to her with his hands spread out, making two gestures: one to show that he was unharmed, and the other to offer a hug.

    She backed away from him at first, not wanting her anger to be quelled by his love for her, but she couldn’t resist for long as she returned his gesture with an embrace and melted into his arms. She wanted to cry, but she would never let anyone see her tears—a promise she made to herself when she joined the academy. “Don’t think that this means I have forgiven you,” she said although the tone of her voice betrayed her words.

    “I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but I do appreciate the embrace,” he replied. They broke the embrace, still in each other’s arms, and stared intently at one-another. Lemme could always lose herself into the ocean of blue which was the eye color of Oigus. Their faces drew closer, and their lips touched momentarily, at first, and then again, much longer on the second endeavor.

    It all seemed so long and yet too short. Every kiss Oigus shared with Lemme, always lasted forever, which was only a microsecond. It was a paradox that even his vast intellect could not understand. He had to concede that love was simply unquantifiable. She finally drew away from his lips, and his arms. To Oigus, it seemed that Lemme used all the strength she had to push him away by the chest. “Oige…” she murmured thoughtlessly, regressing back to her childhood nickname for him. “Why didn’t you come to see me?”

    Oigus reluctantly pushed aside his desire to continue their previous action, and simply walked behind her to close the door to his house. He gave his words careful thought. He would not lie to her, but he didn’t want to wantonly throw words around. “During war…” Oigus began, “there are many acts committed by a soldier like me, acts that I would rather forget, if it were possible.”

    Lemme was more concerned with the acts he committed before he joined the war that she wished everyone would forget, but she decided not to voice that and continued to listen.

    “I didn’t want you to see my sins,” he said plainly. “They were worn on me by the blood of my enemies that stained my armor. I couldn’t let you see that,” he paused. “I have too many that you’ve already witnessed,” he said with a cracking voice.

    She understood his reasoning, but it didn’t sit well with her. “Oige,” she whispered. There was much she wanted to say, and Oigus could see that plainly on her face. He knew what she had to tell him, but he wanted to avoid hearing it, as if it would make it less true. He moved closer to her and kissed her passionately once more. She attempted to stop him, but her body betrayed her as it returned his passion in-kind. She ran her fingers through his dark hair, which she thought was in need of a haircut as it now reached his chest, but reasoned that it was a bad time to bring that up. She brought her hands to his cheeks and slid it down his jawline; she was not used to there being stubble there, and she decided she rather liked the sensation it gave her as she caressed it, still lip-locked with her lover.

    He began to remove her coat first, almost effortlessly, and threw it on the floor. They broke their kiss long enough for her to raise her hands over her head, and Oigus didn’t take long to recognize the meaning. He grabbed the bottom of her tunic and lifted it over her head, leaving her torso exposed to just her undergarments. She returned to lip wrestling with Oigus as she used her hands to push her pants down as far as she could get them without breaking her kiss fully. When they were low enough, she used her ankles and feet to finish the job, as her hands moved to the task of disrobing Oigus.

    She stopped suddenly and looked Oigus directly in the eye. “Tell me: did you fantasize about this?”

    He smiled reassuringly at her. “Since before I was born,” he replied. It was something she had always asked him before becoming physically intimate, and he had always given her the very same answer, and he swore to himself that he would never cease to give it, as he would never cease to love her.
  2. Sequester Not the hero The Alley needs, but the hero The Alley deserves

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    Mar 10, 2011

    Chapter Two

    In Oigus’ time in the academy, he often studied other cultures and their courtship rituals. He found some so peculiar. One such custom was from the Ko-Ach kingdom of Naka, the central continent to the west, where men would shower their affections on the woman they were interested in mating with, and if the woman was interested in him she would agree to allow him to court her until she was ready to accept the terms of his proposal to be faithful to her for the rest of their lives. Then after months of planning there would be a ceremony to express their union to everyone, and only after that ritual would the couple become physical. From his understanding, it wasn’t uncommon that this culture would dissolve such unions if the couple grew tired of one another. He also read about customs of the Ko-Ach kingdom in Hinode to the southeast where men would have more than one mate. Oigus could not understand the appeal to either culture. To a member of the Tzadikim it was not hard to find the person to whom they wanted to stay eternally faithful. It was not uncommon that Tzadikim children knew they had found their mates, even at a tender age, and as they matured, so did the nature of their relationships. They did not need a ceremony to become physically intimate, nor did they need multiple mates. The Tzadikim mated for life, and it was with that person they would be faithful to until they no longer drew breath.

    He looked down at the beautiful girl in his arms and wondered how anyone could need anything other than what they had. She nuzzled her head closer to his chest, and Oigus held her tighter in response. She absent-mindedly played with the silk ribbon that was still on his person. Lemme had always shown great disdain for the garment, but for once she seemed grateful to feel it in her hand; she was simply happy to have him back at his side: dirty ribbon and all. She gave a small kiss on one of his pectorals, and another on the other side. “What are you doing?” he asked her.

    “Thanking your strength for keeping you alive. For bringing you back to me,” she admitted, which was a softer side to which only Oigus was privy.

    Oigus chuckled a bit at that. “It wasn’t my strengths that kept me alive, Lemme.”

    She remained quiet momentarily, considering to what she could attribute this providence. “Should I thank Tzadik, then?”

    Oigus held back the instinct to snort at that. “Would he even hear you?” He had asked it before he could think; he knew Lemme did not like anyone questioning their god. Before she could respond he continued, “It was you, Lemme.”

    “Me?” she questioned forgetting her response to his lack of faith. “Oh, is that so?” she mused.

    “Of course it is. I knew if I were to die, you would never see me until we’re together in Bina.”

    “Are you not also worried about you not being able to see me?” she looked up at him, beaming.

    “Most certainly, but I am more concerned with how you would feel. Despite my protest, I know that if I were to… perish, you would be extremely unhappy and decide to take the vow of the lost. I couldn’t have you live such a lonely life,” he matched her smile; even in the dimly lit room he could tell her facial expressions.

    “The vow is a fitting act in such a situation, love,” she responded earnestly.

    This time he allowed himself to snort. He never understood the vow of the lost. It was a ritual performed by those who had recently lost a life-mate; it involved a public declaration of chastity and faithfulness to their love who awaits them in the next world. For the life of him, he could never accept how the departed souls of their loved ones could want the people who stay behind to be alone for the rest of their lives. He thought many times that if something were to happen to him on the battlefield, he would want Lemme to find solace in the love of another—perhaps Vohm, his best friend. “Well, there’s no way I’d win that argument with you, no matter how hard I try,” he conceded. “So I figured it would be best to just stay alive to be with you myself.”

    “That won’t be as easy to do as it is to say. Or did you forget about the events of last year? How you ended any chance of a future between us?” She seemed to measure his facial reaction and grew quiet momentarily. “Why did you leave me?” she asked, a bit reluctantly. “Why did you stop us from joining you? Why couldn’t you have waited six months and graduate with Vohm and I?”

    Oigus cursed himself inwardly. He should have seen this coming. He had only one course of defense, which was the very topic he was hoping to avoid earlier. “For the same reason you joined earlier today, love.”

    Lemme stood silent for several seconds after he said it. “Y-you knew?”

    It wasn’t often that she stuttered, but it happened whenever Oigus had used his deductive abilities. It always caught her off-guard. “Of course, I did,” he responded in a matter-of-fact tone.

    She sighed audibly purposely. “Why does it still surprise me when you do that?”

    It was because Lemme had a hard time conceding that anyone, including her greatest love, may be craftier than her. Oigus knew this, but dare not voice it. “The letter of recruitment was sticking out of your coat pocket earlier, I’m afraid. It wasn’t enough for me to read anything, but it was clearly the type of parchment used by our army.”

    Lemme considered her next words carefully. “How did you know that it was a letter of recruitment and not a letter of conscription? You know they’re conscribing all healthy abled bodies, right? How could you tell?” she threw back at him.

    “With ease, I’m afraid. You see,” he began to explain. “Only the very edge stuck out of your pocket, but it was enough to reveal a part of it, the very part where you signed. Now, I didn’t actually see your entire signature, only half of the first letter, but the stroke was consistent with yours. Letters of conscription are not signed, they are simply delivered and you report to duty.”

    Lemme didn’t know if she should smile or frown. “I guess you haven’t—”

    “There’s more, Lemme,” he continued. “When you first came in you left the door open and the breeze from the cold weather carried the slightest scent of rust into my home. It was barely noticeable because you took a bath after that and washed with… I want to say, Nightmary flowers, am I correct?”

    “It was honey root,” she corrected with a lie.

    Oigus decided to let that go even though it was obvious, “ah yes, an innocent mistake, honey root. So the scent of rust, which you acquired from trying on old armor used for recruits, was faint but still present. Had you received a letter of conscription, you would not have been fitted for armor yet, if at all because Unetus is only offering arms to those who have volunteered to fight. There is a vast shortage of supplies, you realize.”

    “Are you done now?” Lemme asked a bit impatiently.

    “Yes,” he replied, although there were a couple of facts he could have probably thrown in.

    Lemme sighed. “You are right. I decided to join the effort, as this is everyone’s fight. I probably would have been drafted anyway, as my abilities were top in the academy.”

    “Not so. With what happened last year—“

    “You weren’t as thorough as you thought. You forget that laws have governing bodies, and these governing bodies created new laws to better suit the needs of the village. I think they named it the Emergency Relief Act or something like that. It was drafted by a very clever young lady, right out of the academy.”

    Oigus knew why he loved Lemme so much—and it irritated him to no end! She circumvented all his efforts! He had cleverly—albeit deceitfully—come up with a way to keep Vohm and Lemme out of the war using the very laws of Machaseh, and she ruined it by lobbying for law that he used to keep them out. How could she do this to him? Was his sacrifice not enough? “Unetus assured me that this couldn’t happen,” he said coldly.

    Lemme removed herself from Oigus’ embrace and sat up on the bed, allowing the blanket to fall from her young, slender form, which Oigus enjoyed. She peered at him with a look so cold that he was almost convinced she had just used an ice ability. “I’m not sure how you managed to get Unetus to agree with what you’ve done, but luckily for this village I have circumvented your little attempt to control me.”

    Oigus sat up now, no longer concerned with the beautiful view of her bare skin. “I don’t seek to control you,” he retorted in a slightly elevated tone.

    “Really? Oige, you’ve always tried to control everything! Like the time you didn’t want me to spar Lita when we began combat training. You were so convinced she’d beat me, you practically begged me not to spar with her.”

    Oigus let out a sigh as he recalled the situation. “She was—is twice your size, and three times your girth! She wields an actual steel axe, and not a water one. She’s easily Vohm’s equal in strength. Besides,” he declared finally, “there is nothing wrong with asking you to be careful.”

    Lemme flashed him a sardonic smile, “Oh, I suppose you’re right, except you ended up giving her a mild poison to slow her reflexes down.”

    He nearly snorted again, “There was never any proof of that!”

    “She vomited her lunch on me after lifting her axe! She couldn’t lift it or herself for two weeks,” she threw at him. “They found traces of the poison in her lunch and the hilt of her axe.”

    “Well not that anyone really intended on poisoning her, but if someone had tried, I would have admired their pure genius. Using an oral sedative to induce sleep, and a cutaneous poison to weaken the muscles was a stroke of brilliance,” he said a bit too defensively while she glared at him incredulously. “The person couldn’t have possibly known the side effects of mixing those two poisons; I’m sure he—or she—was merely intending to incapacitate her. Wasn’t that my deduction at the time, I believe?”

    “Oh yes, you’re quite the detective, aren’t you? Solving crimes you’ve committed,” she spat.

    He blinked and looked away, “still there was no evidence of any foul play on my part,” he said softly, just above a whisper.

    Lemme sighed loudly, and a bit too dramatically it seemed, “Well then, let’s just move on to your greatest control tactic to date: the event last year that kept Vohm and I from joining you. Are you going to deny that one to my face? I was there!”

    Oigus gave no vocal response, but merely looked away from her face.

    “Why did you try to stop us from going with you? I don’t understand why you would push us away.”

    “Because people die in wars!” he erupted, regretting it as soon as it burst from his mouth, but he couldn’t stop. “It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, or if you’re Tzadik’s favored, there will always be someone better on the other side. It’s just a matter of time before they find you, and…” he trailed off as his pain began to subside. He couldn’t help but to remember his parents. How they were both so skilled, and how they were favored by Tzadik, and how little it mattered to their god when they died. He didn’t even give any words to the prophetess as means of comfort. He promised he wouldn’t let anyone else he loved die in a pointless war—especially when it’s Tzadik who should be fighting Aph Esh himself, not the people.

    Lemme embraced him tightly. “All the more reason we should stay at each other’s side, my love. I’m also scared of losing you too. Do you think you’re the only one that could win this war?”

    Yes, he thought. “No,” he replied. “Part of me thought I wouldn’t be coming back. Maybe then you and Vohm could—” He wasn’t lying: he felt a great deal of ambivalence toward the matter.

    She pushed him away with striking force. “What? Have a child together? Live as life-mates? You must have been insane! I’m more of a ‘vow of the lost’ type of person, as we’ve already discussed.”

    “I know you are, but it’s wrong. A vow to stay alone for the rest of your life makes no sense! Why would I want that for you?”

    “It’s not always about what you want!” she spat at him and he looked away in response. “In my mind there was never anyone else but you.”

    Oigus could relate with her. He never loved anyone else the way he loved her. Since they were children they knew they would become life-mates, but Oigus did not want her to stay alone. Vohm was a good man, and Oigus could think of no one better to stand in his place. “People die in wars all the time,” he repeated. “People that were far more skilled than I. With greater intellect even…”

    She began to rub his back comfortingly. “I know you miss them,” Lemme comforted knowing to whom Oigus was referring. “Your parents, I mean,” she clarified needlessly. “I miss them too.”

    Oigus knew she was telling the truth. Lemme and his mother shared a bond formed on a mutual love of Oigus. His mother knew of their intentions to become life-mates since they were children. When Lemme was not with Oigus, one could make a safe bet she was with his mother. It would almost make Oigus a bit jealous any time he’d want to spend time with either of them to find out they were already busy in each others company, but that did leave ample time for Oigus to spend with his father and Vohm.

    “When Arma and Kallis died,” she paused but Oigus dare not interject. Saying his parents’ names still held much weight in Machaseh, especially with Oigus. “When they died,” she began again, “a part of my soul—no, Machaseh’s soul—went with them. They treated me like a daughter, and I always felt at home here. So I know how you feel,” she sensed Oigus trying to interject but she rushed her index finger to his mouth to halt him. “What they were fighting for was important to them and it is important to me. They weren’t just fighting for this village, but they were fighting for you, so that you wouldn’t have to take up their fight.”

    Oigus gave her a quick side glance, having no argument, he simply nodded solemnly.

    “And although you ended up fighting in this war anyway, I know they’d be proud of you for what you’re doing. This is why I decided to enlist. I know Arma wouldn’t want me to just sit by and watch as you went to war,” Lemme declared with tears streaming down her face, and she mentally chastised herself for breaking the promise she made as a child.

    “She wouldn’t want you to go to war,” Oigus countered.

    “Nor you, but did that stop you?” she asked, although he gave no reply. “Promise me, something,” she said as she rose from the bed and began collecting any of her undergarments that had made it to the room.

    He stared up at her, already knowing what she wanted, but cautious not to promise anything he could not keep.

    “Don’t try to take me out of this war. Don’t try to make me leave your side. If you won’t respect the fact that I am fighting for you too, then respect the fact that Machaseh is my home. It would be better that I fight, then for you to fail, and have me waiting at home unarmed when the Esh arrive, wouldn’t it?”

    Oigus had to admit that her reasoning was sound, but he still couldn’t come to grips with the idea of her putting herself in danger—especially not for him. “I promise that I will not interfere with your duties as a soldier, and that I will not allow you to die.”

    She searched his response mentally for a hidden meaning. Content with his answer she knelt down on the bed, still disrobed, and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you, Oige,” she said before she turned around and continued the search for her clothing which was largely in the entry room.

    “Do you have to go now?” he asked her.

    “I’m a soldier now, I have to report in a few hours,” she replied and the answer nearly made Oigus snort, but he resisted without her noticing.

    “Before you go, I wanted to,” he paused to gain his composure and finally decided on the right words. “I’m hungry.”

    She gave him a cold stare, which he found was a direct contradiction with her fiery hair. “If you ask me to make you a sandwich, Tzadik help me, I’ll—“

    “I wasn’t talking about food,” he grinned devilishly at her.

    Her expression went from cold to impish, “Oh.” Then her expression mirrored his desire, “I guess we have time for a small snack,” and she rushed back over to his bed and the heat of their bodies quickly intertwined as it often does with young lovers, as they began their sensual dance together in the soft sea of sheets.

    * * *

    Several hours later Oigus found himself alone in his bathtub again. After what had happened that night, it was only appropriate that he bathe again, although he was loath to wash off Lemme’s scent from his body. She was gone now and she had refused to bathe together with Oigus, or else she’d be tempted to stay even longer.

    He replayed the conversation with her in his mind. He searched for loopholes around his promise. He promised he wouldn’t interfere with her duties as a recruit, but he did not promise he wouldn’t devise strategies that would place her far from the front lines. Unetus already knew of Oigus prowess when it came to strategy, and it would be easy enough to convince him on the best course of action. Technically, it wouldn’t be interfering. It’s not Oigus fault that the winning strategy involved her unit guarding a position in the Kaitse mountain range. He decided against this idea at the end, however. He knew Lemme would simply disobey orders and bring her entire unit with her, and without being synchronized with the tactical plan, that could be catastrophic for her.

    Sick people couldn’t fight though... They can, however, hold grudges as Lita had demonstrated countless times from when last he sought to make someone ill. No, it wasn’t a good idea, and he couldn’t do that to Lemme anyway. What if he was to fall in battle, and shortly after the defenses failed, and she was left alone and infirmed? How then would she defend herself? Why had he dwelt on that idea so long?

    There was no way around it. He would just have to honor his promise, but that didn’t mean he would let her do so without the proper equipment. He glanced over at his tarbima steel armor, which was much easier to see now that the first traces of sunlight had begun to rise above the horizon outside, and lend light to his house. Its brownish color made it look unimpressively similar to leather, but its practical use far surpassed that of any modern plate. Tarbima steel was hard to make, but if he hurried he could manage to make a couple of armor pieces. Still, would it be enough? No. Oigus had to go the extra mile to ensure her safety. An idea began to formulate in his complex mind.

    * * *

    There was an eerie silence over the hidden town of Machaseh, and Vohm didn’t like it. He was used to the village sanctuary being a lively safe haven, and not a refuge of fear. He couldn’t help but feel like a prisoner in his own village, and it was starting to irritate him to no end. If Vohm didn’t know better, he would have thought it was an abandoned village, and in a way, it was. The village wasn’t abandoned, of course, but hope seemed to have been left by the wayside.

    All that despair made him very anxious. He was itching for a good brawl, and good ale, and could find neither as the pub was empty. The villagers that usually enjoyed a drink and a fight after a day of work were all awaiting news of an invading army. Vohm couldn’t help but wish the Esh would come already, if for no other reason, so that he could enjoy a bloody fight.

    The low morale of the village was not the only thing irking him though. The fact that his best friend, Oigus, had returned from the battlefield over two days ago and had not taken the time to see him was even more irritating. Sure, Vohm could have easily come to see him, but why should he? It was Oigus that kept him out of the army when he joined, and it was Oigus’ lot to apologize for it—at least in Vohm’s mind it was. Vohm knew, however, that Oigus wasn’t one for apologies, or one to admit he’s wrong or even mistaken; it was with that mindset that he set out to see his friend one cold morning—the coldest day of the season so far.

    As he walked through the empty cobblestone roads of Machaseh he couldn’t help but to notice how cumbersome his new military-issued steel armor was to walk in. Sure, it was heavy, but that wasn’t what bothered Vohm, as he was easily one of the strongest young males in the village; the real problem for Vohm stemmed from the armor’s lack of mobility. It wasn’t as if Vohm was the most agile warrior in Machaseh, or even his academy for that matter, but he prided himself on his ability to swing his water-axe with greater speed and dexterity than anyone in his class. With the armor that was given to him, Vohm doubted he could pull of such a feat, even with his great strength.

    Another problem Vohm had with the armor is its aesthetic appeal—it had none! Being that Vohm was more than a little vane about his appearance, he spent the better part of the day he received his armor looking it over in the huge mirror on the wall of his room. His face, he thought, was of course perfection. Dark blue eyes, a nose that was slightly imperfect so that it fit his face perfectly, a brilliant set of teeth that just complimented his winning smile. His favorite feature was his chin, which was square and manly, much more so than Oigus’ chin, which was small and gave him a more feminine quality—or at least Vohm thought so. His ear-length dark hair fell perfectly from his scalp and out toward the side of his head; Vohm kept it immaculately groomed and brushed three times daily, and when the sun hit it at the right angle, it would take a blue tone. His olive skin tone was slightly darker than most of the villagers, but that just gave him an exotic look which was most appealing amongst his female peers. He was taller than all of the boys in his graduating class, and was probably the tallest in the village. He was very muscular, but not so much where it robbed him of dexterity. He deemed himself perfect, and now the armor was just stealing his status of perfection from him. Not only did the full armor hide his muscular appeal, but it was rusted and old, and if Vohm wasn’t mistaken, there was an old blood stain from the previous user right on top of the right pauldron. Vohm refused to wear the helmet that came with it at first, as it completely hid his beautiful face. Being the logical Tzadikim member that he was, he figured it was a stupid reason not to have a helmet, and decided he would put it on before the battle begins, but not a second sooner.

    The worse part about the armor was the fact that newer and better armors had been invented in the last five decades that were not only easier to wield weapons with, but were much prettier to don. Vohm’s armor had to be a century old, and he silently cursed Oigus for stopping him from joining a year earlier, when he would have been issued a newer plate of armor.

    Discarding the thoughts of anger toward his best friend, Vohm trudged awkwardly toward the gates of Oigus’ home. There was no chance that Oigus would be unaware of his arrival, as every step was pronounced with a loud clang of his metallic footwear. He balled his right hand into a fist and wrapped on the door loud enough to be heard in any part of his friend’s huge house. He waited a sociable amount of time with no response before he knocked again: nothing. There was a time when Vohm wouldn’t even bother knocking, he would walk right in at a whim, but he hadn’t seen Oigus in a year and he didn’t know if that would be acceptable anymore. Eventually his manners gave way to his impatience as he opened the front door of Oigus’ manor.

    Vohm walked into the entry room and looked around. He marveled a bit at the beauty and perfection of the ice sculpture of Oigus’ parents. Vohm often had trouble believing that Oigus had created that when he was only three years old, but Vohm knew if there was anyone who could pull off that feat at a young age, it was his best friend. “Oigus!” he called out only hearing his echo in response. He was starting to wonder if anyone was home. He was on the verge of leaving when he heard the clanging sound of metal-on-metal coming from beyond the hall. Knowing exactly where to find Oigus, he walked over toward the hallway past the ice sculpture. He continued down the path, his presence pronounced heavily with every step from his cumbersome armor, until he reached a door at the end of the hallway that led to a staircase that went into the basement. He descended down the flight of stairs carefully, making sure not to slip with the heavy attire he wore.

    Oigus’ basement was the room Oigus always used to devise strategies, or solve problems that were more advanced than most were used to solving. He drew schematics here, and invented many items in that room. Oigus said it was the one place in the entire village where he could think with almost no distraction from worldly concerns. When he wasn’t with Lemme or Vohm, the bulk of his free time would be spent there. Vohm mentally kicked himself for not have thinking of that room earlier.

    When he reached the lower level he spied his friend for the first time in one year, intently working on what appeared to be armor. For a moment Vohm had thought that Oigus had not noticed him. Had the year of constant battle wore on the great perceptive prowess his best friend once possessed? “Vohm, you’re just in time,” Oigus replied without so much as a glance upward to confirm that it was him.

    Vohm suppressed his instinct to react with surprise. “If you knew I was here you could have opened the door for me.”

    Oigus chuckled dismissingly. “Since when did you start knocking? They say war changes a man, but does it change the men that stay home as well?” Oigus retorted looking at Vohm with a smirk, seemingly poking at his pride.

    Vohm nearly exploded. It was Oigus’ fault that Vohm did not enlist! He would not give Oigus the satisfaction. It took every fiber of his being, but he ignored the comment. “What is it I’m in time for exactly?”

    This was a little strange for Vohm. He had pictured this reunion differently in his mind. Oigus had not embraced him, or showed any outward sign that he was happy to see Vohm. Vohm would have assumed he was callous had he not known Oigus so well. Vohm wasn’t as perceptive as his best friend, but he was Tzadikim, and all Tzadikim had considerable deductive skills and reasoning. Oigus expressed his happiness to see Vohm in the only manner that would best appreciate their relationship, by resuming where they left off. He purposely avoided any of the sociable things to say to a person that hasn’t seen the other in a year. Those were words that would lead to questions about the unpleasant task of fighting a war. He knew Oigus would much rather spend the little time they had together before the fight, jumping into the old role they were both comfortable with. Vohm was surprised how seamless Oigus had made it seem. For that moment it almost seemed like no time had passed at all. However, one look at the armor on the anvil that Oigus was forging brought it back into perspective. He was creating armor for Vohm and Lemme.

    “You made armor for us,” Vohm answered his own question gravely.

    Oigus nodded solemnly, matching his best friend’s emotion. Vohm took this as a bad sign. A year ago, Oigus would—and did— do everything in his power to stop his friends from entering battle. The fact that he accepted their induction into the armed forces meant that the situation was much worse than Vohm had thought.

    “To say the least,” Oigus broke the silence after a few moments, and Vohm momentarily considered that Oigus had developed telepathy as his words almost mirrored his thoughts, “it’s much more fashionable than that atrocity you’re wearing.”

    Vohm wanted to be offended, but he couldn’t. It really wasn’t aesthetically pleasing nor was it comfortable, but it did provide a certain degree of protection, which was more than what he could say about the chest plate Oigus had made which appeared—albeit better looking—as a leather chest plate. “While this chest plate you have made for me does appeal to my keen sense of fashion, I’m afraid it will offer little in protection. Leather armor has pretty much been around for several thousand years, I think.”

    “One-thousand-six-hundred-and-forty-eight years to by most accounts, but still—”

    “I’m grateful that you care about my good looks as much as I do, but you miss the point of armor. There have been advances since this was invented—”

    “Please, my friend, the only technological advance used on acquiring your armor was a key that allows you access to our crypts. It looks like you got that armor off a century-old corpse—”

    “I mean, it is a little dated, but not as much as, oh, let’s say…leather?”

    “Do you at least trust me enough to try it on?” Oigus asked at the end of that exchange.

    Vohm stood silent momentarily then sighed. “Help me out of this then,” he banged a metal fist on his chest plate.

    Oigus helped his friend with his armor until he was left wearing his padded coat and leggings. Oigus eyed the leggings with a scrutinizing gaze. “Leggings, Vohm?”

    “It’s what is worn under the armor!”

    “Of course it is,” Oigus chuckled. “Remove your padded coat. You will not need it.”

    Vohm complied and removed his padding, and was given a solid leather chest plate in place of it. Vohm slipped it over his head and found it incredibly flexible and easy to don. When he was done equipping the plate he held his hand out expectantly at Oigus, waiting for the rest of the armor.

    “No, that’s it,” responded Oigus.

    “So your idea is for me to go out into one of the bloodiest battles our clan has ever known—and one of the most important I might add—in just a leather chest plate?”

    “Well, it’s the only thing I knew that was flexible enough to accommodate your ego.”

    “What was that metallic sound I heard you banging your hammer on upstairs? Did you even make anything metallic?”

    “That was me banging my hammer against the anvil, or else you might have left thinking I wasn’t home.”

    “It might have been better if I thought you weren’t. At least then I wouldn’t think my best friend was trying to get me killed!”

    “Please, if I were trying to kill you, I’d have done it myself years ago during one of our sparring matches. You used to drop your guard whenever you swung a weapon. It was an act of pure kindness not to humiliate you in front of the entire academy.”

    “I was doing it purposely so that you would attack me and look ridiculous as I countered, but at least killing me then would have been an act of mercy over giving me this armor,” he began to remove it.

    “What are you doing? You said you’d try it,” Oigus reminded.

    “You asked me to try it, and I tried it. Surely, you didn’t mean in the battlefield where there would be enemies.”

    “You haven’t really tried it yet, just keep it on and—” Oigus grabbed Vohm’s hand to stop him from removing it.

    “Really though, was this some kind of joke? Because there is a war that you’ve seen firsthand and you know we don’t have time for this.”

    Oigus felt the texture of his hands, “You stopped using honey root oil on your hands. Didn’t you used to brag about having the softest hands of any man in the village? You’re losing your touch. Not sure why you would brag about—”

    Enough!” Vohm yelled finally. “I know what you’re doing, Oigus. You’re trying to pick up where you left off. As if you never went off to war after doing everything you can to prevent Lemme and I from enlisting with you—from being at your side where we should have been! You don’t get to do that, and expect to have that same kind of relationships waiting for you when you get back, especially when we could be invaded any day now. Do you think we have time for these jokes?”

    Oigus sighed. “Last year, I did what I did because—” but his explanation was cut off sharply by Vohm striking him across the face, sending Oigus to the ground with one shot.

    I don’t want to hear your jokes, and I don’t want to hear your excuses either!” Vohm said as he hovered like a tower above Oigus who was still on the ground and made no attempt to get on his feet. Vohm then stood silent momentarily. “I’m sorry, but I thought this would be different. I thought you would be—”

    Vohm didn’t know what to say or do. He had just struck his best friend to the ground. Oigus was like a brother to Vohm, and there was no way Oigus could have known he would have been struck or else he wouldn’t have gone down so easily. Even Vohm didn’t expect that to happen, as it wasn’t his intention. There was nothing he could do to rectify this now, but it didn’t change the fact that Oigus also hurt him. It wasn’t as if Vohm didn’t understand. He wanted to protect Oigus and Lemme too, but the act he committed to keep them out of the military, to try to control the fate of his friends—that was just too hard to forgive. The outcome of his scheme still had repercussions on the outcome of their lives. To make matters worse, there was no apology, no sign of remorse from Oigus. He always thought that his actions were beyond reproach—even if it hurt others. It was all just too much for him.

    “I’ll come back later, Oigus,” he said finally as he began to remove the armor.

    “Vohm,” Oigus called out trying to stop him from removing the armor.

    “Whatever you have to say can wait until after the battle, I—”

    “Focus some water into the chest plate,” Oigus requested, almost sounding like a command.


    Water: you are Tzadikim, and unless Tzadik abandoned us completely I think we can still manipulate water. I know I can.”


    “Please, Vohm.”

    Vohm sighed with resignation. “Sure,” he said plainly. Vohm wasn’t the best at water manipulation, but he was able to do it with enough proficiency to form a water axe. He could certainly focus water into the armor. He drew the moisture from the air and into the armor and almost immediately the armor grew out all over his body. Covering his feet and legs, arms and body and even his face in the same leathery material his chest plate was made of. The armor felt tight, as it fit over his form perfectly. It was a light and easy to move around in. He looked down at his friend who was still on the floor, and Oigus pointed to the mirror in the corner of the basement prompting him to check his appearance. Vohm walked over to the mirror and saw that the brown leather chest plate had completely covered his body, as expected. He looked at his face, and while normally it would bother him to cover his visage, he couldn’t help but be intrigued by the mask the armor grew. The image of an fearless, and albeit, apathetic face etched into the leather mask stared back at him: it made Vohm look like he had a calm face no matter what he did from behind the mask, and the eyes were a fierce white with no pupils or irises, which was a contrast to the brown color of the armor itself. He was pleased to see that most of his muscles showed through the form fitting suit, even if his face did not.

    “How did you come up with this?”

    “I wear something similar called tarbima steel, which I also created. Of course, mine doesn’t equip the same way yours does. I actually have to don every piece of armor. I made tarbima steel last year, and though it almost got me laughed off the battle field, it proved valuable to me on more than one occasion, but I spent a lot of my free time devising ways to improve it and one of the ways I thought up was to have it don itself. It’s not as complicated as it looks and involves transposing of water molecules, similar to willing a water weapon together, except the tarbima steel does the forming for you.”

    Vohm knew that Oigus was wording it as simply as possible, but it didn’t matter. He might as well try to understand how to craft fire weapons, as he didn’t quite understand how Oigus gets the armor to form what it wills to form. “Does the armor have a will of its own?”

    “Eh, not exactly: the best way to explain it is to say that the armor is incomplete without the water, but it’s built in a way that if water is added it would construct itself around the wearer,” Oigus tried to explain.

    That didn’t help, but Vohm did not want to appear to be stupid, he was Tzadikim after all, but there was one concern that pressed him. “While this is astounding, and very light and easy to move in, I’m still afraid it won’t give me much protection.”

    “It’s almost impermeable. Let me show you,” Oigus began to move but stopped and instead held out his hand for Vohm to help him up. Vohm understood then why Oigus had not attempted to get up thus far. In Oigus’ weird way of thinking, being on the ground is what he deserved until Vohm would forgive him by offering a hand up. Vohm wondered if Oigus would have stayed on the ground if he had left him there. Vohm walked over and extended his hand to his friend. He had already felt guilty enough for hitting him, but the fact that Oigus went to such lengths to make him armor made him feel much worse. He resolved in his mind, however, that this was not an act of forgiveness. Oigus’ actions were beyond absolution, even in light of the armor he forged for Vohm.

    Oigus was raised to his feet quickly with the help of Vohm’s enormous strength. “Thank you,” Oigus said awkwardly. “Now if you’ll be so kind as to stand at the far side of the room.”

    Vohm was bit reluctant, but he still walked to the other side near the staircase that led him into the room. Oigus also backed himself to the opposite wall, which were nearly forty-feet apart. Once situated, he formed a longbow from water vapors, and an arrow to match. Vohm began to feel uneasy. Archery wasn’t Oigus’ strong point as it was with Lemme. He didn’t have the accuracy to aim at a non-lethal area. “Oigus, are you sure you know what you’re doing?” he called out.

    Oigus placed the arrow on the twine of the bow and drew it back, taking aim right at Vohm’s chest. A smirk touched his lips, “not entirely, no.” Before Vohm could object Oigus had released the arrow, piercing the distance at great speed and hitting its target straight in the chest. Upon impact the arrow instantly eviscerated back into water and merely splashed away from its target without so much as recoil from its intended victim. Vohm stood in utter disbelief. “I… that was… I didn’t feel anything!”

    “Of course you didn’t. This is tarbima steel. It absorbs impact and returns the energy back into the attacker’s weapon,” Oigus explained. “If it’s a weapon made of water or fire or any other controlled element, it will usually cause the weapon to dissolve, and if it’s a real weapon it will normally break depending on the weapons durability.”

    “Why don’t most of our men have this? This could save a lot of lives!”

    “I know,” Oigus admitted ruefully. “However, it takes a great deal of time to make. I tried to have our village’s smiths start production a year ago so that we’d have a surplus, but they said that this process was too complicated just to make what they thought was leather armor.”

    Vohm looked down at his armor. “I guess I could see how they would have thought that,” he admitted as just moments ago he thought the same thing.

    “Originally, I was going to make the armor like mine, armor you don one piece at a time, but I had no time to make all the pieces. Fortunately my theory worked, and I was able to make the one piece of armor for each of you. You forgot to try out the best part though,” Oigus made a motion toward Vohm’s back side indicating something was there.

    Vohm reached toward his back grasping at something he couldn’t see. Finally, he touched what felt like a hilt. He took the hilt in his hand and pulled the weapon from his back. It was a sturdy looking axe, but it was lighter than any water axe he ever materialized. Vohm maneuvered the axe through the air, shocked at how easy it was to move.

    “That was the hardest part,” Oigus continued explaining, “having the armor materialize an axe that is not made of tarbima steel, as it’s not really good to use as a weapon. It’s as sturdy as any steel axe though.”

    “This is lighter than my water axe,” Vohm stated incredulously.

    “Once again your powers of perception do you justice, my friend,” Oigus jabbed. “Do you really care to hear the process of how I did that, or would you rather just try it out?”

    Vohm couldn’t even pretend he would understand. He simply looked at the armor that lay on the floor, lifted his axe towards it and struck the chest plate, tearing it asunder as if it were paper. Vohm looked back at his friend admiringly. “This is miraculous.”

    “Ah, I can’t take credit for the axe as it’s your design. I tried to think of a design better than this one, but I have to admit, your axe crafting is the best. I simply found a way to make it lighter.” Vohm hadn’t noticed yet, but it truly was the same design of the axe he created and favored.

    “I should warn you of one danger before you go out on the battle field,” Oigus continued. “The number one priority should still be to not get hit in battle. Tarbima steel is almost impenetrable, but it doesn’t last forever. Like all armor it does wear down after a certain number of blows. However, I have been experimenting with the armor I made for you and Lemme and its properties should regenerate after a while, provided you don’t get hit enough to damage the armor. In other words, a certain degree of skill is required to use it.”

    “I’ll be sure to ask my enemies if they thought I was skilled enough as I pry my axe from their flesh,” he smirked at Oigus foolishly, as Oigus couldn’t see his expression from behind the mask.

    Oigus did not return the smile, whether because he could not see Vohm’s face or he didn’t find it funny, Vohm did not know. “When you want to remove the armor, it’s the same as dissolving a water weapon. Just remove the water from it.”

    Vohm nodded silently.

    “Now if you’ll excuse me, friend. I have to find Lemme and help her fit into her armor. No offense, but I think that will be much more pleasant,” Oigus attempted to smirk at Vohm, but winced with immediate pain. He rubbed his jaw soothingly where Vohm had struck him just moments earlier. “For more reasons than one…”

    Vohm felt a little sheepish for hitting his best friend now. He tried to think of a reason, or a way to apologize, but he found nothing that would excuse such an act. For the first time, Vohm was grateful to have his face covered or else his embarrassment would be laid bare. Vohm began to move toward the staircase and stopped short of the first step. “If we have time,” Vohm said in a low tone. He cleared his throat and began again, “if we have time, would you care to get one drink at the tavern later tonight? The three of us, I mean.”

    * * *

    Oigus had a strange couple of days. He had arrived home after a year of endless bloodshed and battle and was half expecting to get some rest before the invasion. Instead he resolved to stay awake for the two days crafting a new form of armor for the two people who meant more to him than anyone in the world, and with the exception of the time he spent entwined with the love of his life in a pool of their sweat on his bed, there had been no form of relaxation. When Vohm entered his home the situation went from their routine banter, to being struck in the face, to helping his friend learn about his new armor. By the time Vohm asked if he’d like to get a drink later, he was exhausted, but how could he pass up the opportunity?

    “Sounds like fun Vohm.” he smiled painfully at Vohm. Vohm nodded, not fully turning back toward Oigus, and ascended the staircase. It was time for Oigus to find Lemme and introduce her to her new attire, but a wave of fatigue had gotten the better of him. He needed rest. He leaned back against the wall opposite of the staircase, and allowed himself to slide down to the floor. He didn’t have much time, but if he closed his eyes for just a moment, it would be alright. The darkness his eyelids provided soon became his greatest ally as his consciousness descended into slumber.