It drifted through space, the millions of stars glinting off of its azure crystalline surface. From its back, four wings craned as if to catch the air, each was made to look as if it were clothed in delicate feathers. Every so often, it would slowly flex the wings, seeming to want for air to caress along its length. The Astrolabe, as the atelier was called, flew under its own power; it did not require winds, or light, or skies to soar upon. All it needed was the will of its master to spur it into motion, and as he had been everyday for a thousand years, Kaie was in no hurry.
The confines within the great ship were larger, much larger than appeared possible. Although nearly a hundred feet across and thrice that distance in height, the atelier could easily support the populace of a small world, and on a few occasions it had done so. Such was the miracle of void technology; an infinite space, confined in a finite receptacle. The magic of the void was only part of the ship’s enchantment; but, in the eyes of it creator, this was by far the most convenient feature.
In a sense, the atelier was a world within itself; it created its own air and gravity, it kept itself at whatever temperature was most comfortable for its residents, even though its master had never had thoughts about being hot or cold. Its wells never ran dry; its store houses never ran empty of food. The entire interior radiated its own soft light, and in the rooms it provided, any of these features would change to suit the desire of its inhabitants. Although not alive, the atelier nurtured all life within its walls as if it was a mother, and the occupants were secure, protected within its womb. Unintentionally, that was how its master had created it, to be a compassionate mother, without judgment, or anger, or sorrow. The mother he wished he’d had.
At the command deck, Kaie sat, motionless, while staring out into the vast blackness of space. His face was young, brown eyes radiated depth and a thoughtful intelligence, but his face was flat and vacant. It was as if he rarely had need to express himself, and in a sense, that was not very far from the truth. Kaie was one of the last Tetsujinn, the blessed children of Messerschmidt. He was a man made of flesh and steel, and as with any artisan he spent most of his time in solitary contemplation.
Before his people thought to record time, the great metal smith Messerschmidt began crafting the first of his kind upon an anvil. He used the finest steel in his shop, and then covered each metallic frame with flesh, smoothing the delicate features with the loving hands of a father, and by gifting each of his children with a soul, he blessed them with sentience. Kaie had never called it life; he had seen life in the humans, and to compare it to the existence his kind endured was nothing but a cold mockery. Humans knew of hate, they knew of love; their lives were brilliant tapestries of colors, opulent hues of passion and creativity. Messerschmidt had called his children ‘men of iron,’ and told them that they were just like the humans, but would never know the infirmities of age. It would seem they would never know the delicate joys of passion either, for the long trek into eternity had fostered a crushing banality into each one’s life, maliciously smothering emotion as if it were an unwanted infant in a gutter.
As such, there were no longer Tetsujinn artisans, no painters or musicians, no poets or sculptors. Kaie was the closest thing to an artisan that the Tetsujinn could offer, an artificer, a student of Messerschmidt. He was a master in his own right, blending magic and metal together, just as his creator had. Kaie could bring forth objects that made the humans gaze in wonderment, but whenever he looked upon them, all he felt was empty, a hollow nothingness of the spirit. His own creations brought him neither happiness nor anger; he never felt the frustrated need to improve his skill, that inspiring drive to take his craft further.
But she had changed that; she had come from nowhere, and shanghaied his bland existence. She had led him out of the dull grayness of his existence and shown him the intense beauty of the worlds. She had rekindled in him the passion that his people had lost long ago. It blinded him, surrounded him, consumed him, changed him and its vastness was so mighty that the stagnant person he had been since birth was no more. The emotionless, pragmatic man who had thought that his skills at the forge were a parody to his creator was gone, and in his place stood a stumbling, absent-minded professor of a man who willing gave form to the seeds of ideas she planted in his head.
That was the inspiration that had given life to the Astrolabe, his magnum opus. He had labored for a year to create the structure, spending exorbitant amounts of his family’s fortune to purchase the exotic ingredients, massive amounts of precious jewels, and rare alloys; but when her face lit with delight at its christening he knew he would do it all over again just to recapture that look of childlike wonderment. She was a war orphan, who had never known any family; together they had visited more worlds than he could remember, and replaced the family she lacked with children of their own. They had seeded the stars with their offspring, and as it was with any parent’s life, hers was growing closer to its inevitable end.
As he stared out at the expanse of space, he could not help but reflect with bitter irony, on how alike it was to his own bleak heart. Contemplating his own hands, he felt acrimonious resentment; their flawless flesh forever immune to the ravages of disease or time. He mused angrily over the cruel joke of his existence; before she had come, he had wished for an end to his immortal life, and now that he had something to live for, he wanted more than anything to preserve that wonderful sense of purpose for all of eternity. Alas, it was not to be.
Leiah was perfect, but she was mortal; her gentle blue eyes told her heart’s story to any stranger who looked into them. She was as innocent as any youth, and this trusting sincerity had gotten her into more than a few scrapes. A child of mankind, with the ancient touch of the water elementals somewhere in her past, she was stunning beyond words; she was compassionate to a fault, and her kindhearted, gullible nature had put her in a few compromising situations. Although the elemental essence had given her the purity of water, as well as its incomparable beauty, it had not given her the timelessness of the oceans she loved so much. She aged, beautifully, and he loved her more with every passing moment.
The day he first noticed the thin strands of gray in her hair, he’d crafted a special enchantment into his wedding ring; as she aged, in appearance, so would he. As years passed, and as those sapphire eyes became wrinkle-framed on her moon-like face, his own image matured in kind. He could not bear to see her become insecure or self-conscious, fearful that as she aged and he remained youthful he would leave her for another. She could never truly understand the endless depth of his love for her; she was innocent and naïve, and all too ready to accept everything she was given at face value.
He mused on her simple trusting nature; that was how they had come to meet in the first place. Unbidden, the immortal’s eyes glazed over as he descended into the abyss of remembrance. Surrounded by the woods of a foreign planet, listening to the cries of approaching beasts, he had been mentally comparing them to the animals of his home world in the hopes of discovering a common element to their evolution. He’d been rasping a piece of flint along the blade of his sword for nearly an hour before the tinder finally caught. As he stoked the fire, he emotionlessly remarked to himself on how strange it was that artisans had never thought to enchant a sword for the purpose of starting campfires.
A woman’s scream pierced the forest and he tightened his grip on the hilt of Peace Keeper, his sword. Although large enough a giant could wield it, the massive blade responded in his hands as if it were feather light. He could not explain why he felt ice in his veins on that warm summer night; perhaps his soul knew who was screaming for help, perhaps it was fate that had delivered her to him, but he dashed into the night, armor a blur. Pressured into becoming a disciple of Messerschmidt by his parents, who owed their lucrative fortune to the art of crafting magical artifacts, he had spent as much time, if not more, familiarizing himself with the sword as he watched the disciples of Kerrisin train. The Goddess of Death kept only the finest warriors, and from a distance, he too had become a skilled swordsman.
That dark secret had made him a barbarian in the eyes of his people, would give him avenue to a life he could never imagine. He burst into a clearing, and found a woman at the mercy of a warrior, her white robes had become tattered and torn by the rough hands of her aggressor. The gray armored man was huge, nearly twice Kaie’s size, and in the ground beside him lay a sword as big as the artisan. The woman’s eyes meet his and beseeched him for help, their silent screams stirred emotions in his soul as diamond-like tears cut glimmering lines through the dirt on her cheeks.
Without a second thought he charged, swinging Peace Keeper with a furious roar. The gray armored knight brought his own weapon up in defense, but Kaie’s magical sword cut a deep gouge into the opponent’s armor cleaving into the flesh and muscle of the warrior’s shoulder. Cascading rivulets of blood ran from the wound, steaming in the summer night air. The knight, enraged at the audacious blow, focused on Kaie, and began hammering him with blows from the great sword. He was a much more skilled fighter than Kaie, and although the Tetsujinn managed to block his blows time and again, he knew he would tire before the trained soldier‘s onslaught. He looked at the girl, who lay exhausted and petrified at his feet, and his decision made, dropped his sword. As Peace Keeper clattered to his feet, the knight shouted in cruel victory as he swung. The great blade bit deep into Kaie’s flesh, skittering off his metal ribs, and ripping a great bloody gash through his blue armor. Without a sound he collapsed to his knees.
As Kaie neared death, he heard the man’s gloating echo faintly, as if he were a great distance away, and a smile formed on the dying Tetsujinn’s lips as he felt the surge of magic swell in his breast. The Phoenix Charm he wore around his neck began to glow; the closer to death he came, the brighter the ruby’s intensity until, as he descended into unconsciousness, the enchantment of the life guardian activated. He could not see it, but a great, flaming bird exploded from his chest, its radiant plumage as brilliant as a thousand suns. The knight could only scream as the blazing creature dove upon him like peregrine falcon on a rat. Seconds later, Kaie’s eyes fluttered open, and he unsteadily rose to his knees. Amidst the stench of scorched flesh he could see the charred knight limping away in defeat, still alive but too hurt to pose a threat to the girl. He turned toward her, smiling weakly as she crawled toward him, her radiant eyes as large as saucers. “Are you . . . well, my lady?” His voice was a whisper, and he could taste blood on his tongue, the thick coppery fluid coated his mouth threatening to choke his words. She nodded meekly, never taking her eyes off him. “Good” was all he could manage before he collapsed, head thudding softly onto the loamy earth, and everything fading into blackness.
He’d given himself up for dead that night, but it was not to be. The girl was a cleric, and after healing him, she’d dragged him around to show him her world. This was the beginning of their adventures together. With an infectious exuberance for life and a joyful spirit, he found that he couldn’t say ‘no’ as she signed him into a blacksmithing contest, or subtly inspired him to craft a magic sword and suit of armor for a commoner who wished to be a knight, or another magical sword for a wanderer who wished to find his way home. Their journeys together would extend into the stars and cross the landscapes of alien worlds. They’d traveled for a lifetime, forever side by side, and still it wasn’t long enough. Once he’d even considered making her immortal, enchanting her ring so that she would never age a day, but he could not allow himself to violate her mortality because of his selfish desires; her appreciation for life came from the knowledge of its finiteness, just as his ennui stemmed from his immortality. Now, as her end crept nearer, he could only hope that his ring’s deadly enchantment fulfilled its purpose; to age him each day as she who bears its mate, as if her mortality were his own. One day she would sleep and never awake, and if the ring were as he’d intended it, neither would he.
On the atelier’s deck, something stirred him from his reverie, and he furiously wiped the tears from his cheeks. He closed his eyes, he focused on the disturbance. Leiah, his beautiful Leiah, was approaching. He stood quickly, reenacting the enchantment on his ring, and in seconds his youthful skin blurred into the wrinkled face of an eighty year old man. With a quiet hiss, the door opened, and a beautiful woman walked through, her silent footsteps marked only by the barely audible swish of her white robes and the tinkling of gold bangles. Her olive skin was perfect, marred only by sparse wrinkles. Her hair had gone to a shimmering gray, as if it were woven from pure silver, and her eyes, now hazy with age, glittered adoringly as he walked towards her and swept her into his arms.
She kissed him for a few long seconds, breaking away breathlessly, intimate feelings bringing a rosy hue to her cheeks. Smiling at her husband she said, “Come now my darling, dinner’s ready, and I made your favorite.”
Kaie stared at her confusedly, “I have a favorite?”
She giggled musically, “You will after you try this, it’s one of the recipes I picked up on Lynn’donica.”
Smiling, he followed her, silently relishing the warmth of her hand in his. He noticed she limped slightly, his brows furrowing in concern. “You’re limping, is it your leg again?”
“Yes,” she turned, smoothing his brow with one finger, “and you needn’t worry so much. It’s all a part of becoming old.”
She turned and resumed dragging him towards the galley, not seeing the sadness in his eyes. “It isn’t fair Leiah; that it has to end someday.”
“Life isn’t about how long it lasts,” she said without looking at him, “it’s about what you do with it. We have had four beautiful children, and through them we have been blessed with sixteen marvelous grandchildren, a few of which are anxiously waiting for their grandfather to come eat with them.” She turned back and kissed him again, “now hurry along, it’s unfair to keep growing children waiting.”
“I love you Leiah,” Kaie turned his face, hiding a tear that slid down his cheek, “I don’t know how I could ever live without you.”
She wiped his tear away, “You’ll never have to.”
He snatched her hand up and kissed her fingertips, “I pray you are right.”