“You can’t be serious!”

Mio followed her uncle around the room as he performed his habitual religious rituals, pestering him for more information about his transaction with Kench.

“You can’t make weapons for them! How could you work for a slave gang?!”

“Hush child. We ain’t gonna discuss this now! I’ll finish my business with th’ goddess before talkin to ya.”

“But-”

Sirius gave her a sharp glance.

“We. Will talk. After.”

Mio backed down, surprised by her uncle’s glare. Somewhat defeated, she stalked back towards a rough dining table, taking a seat on a rickety wooden stool to watch and wait.

The silence to which Sirius appealed was ordinary for the little shop. Every evening the old man would do a general sweeping, picking up the metal filings and dust resting around the forge. Then, he would turn his attention to a well-kept wooden shrine on a shelf in the back room. Kneeling, he gently cleaned the figure’s oaken curves with a rag soaked in lacquer. Then, upon saying a few words in a language Mio did not understand, he lit incense and left the burning stick suspended in one of the little pots of sand beside the statue. From the burning sticks a warm and mysterious smell permeated throughout the room.

Slowly, Sirius stood, taking a lasting look at the icon before turning his attention back to the girl at the table.

“Mio, did I ever tell ya exactly what this little statue here means?”

“Yeah… I think so,” said Mio, trying to recall all that Sirius had disclosed to her over the four years of residence in his little hovel.

The icon, a well-carved figure of a shrouded woman holding both hammer and olive branch, smiled kindly over the room.

“That’s mistress Gayle.”

Sirius nodded in approval.

“Indeed it is, child. The Goddess Gayle, patron saint of peace n’ craftsmen. The guardian of th’ good life, and th’ pursuit of a man’s well-being.”

Sirius paused reflectively.

“Many years ago, I took an oath-”

“You’ve told me before,” interrupted Mio, “Before the war, you promised Mistress Gayle never to hurt anyone, and to forge tools of peace.”

Though slightly surprised at the young girl’s memory, Sirius did not let it show.

“In these 47 years of service to my Goddess, through hellfire and war, I ain’t never broken those rules once, Mio, not once. There’ve been times, Mio. Times when it was nearly impossible ta keep that sacred pledge. Still, I ain’t never given in… and I ain’t about to throw that away over some spat with the local slavers.”

As Mio feared, her uncle stubbornly insisted upon his course of action. Indignant, she stood once more.

“What?! You can’t be considering making weapons for that man..!”

“I ain’t considering nothing, I am gonna make that damned little blade.”

Trying to exit from the conversation, the old man lit his pipe once more and made for the door to the forge. Mio jumped up to block his way, holding her arms out to stop him.

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“How can you just let that man walk all over you?!”

Unimpressed by the protest, Sirius stared the girl down.

“…move aside Mio.”

Mio was resolute. Tears of frustration eked at the corners of her eyes.

“You KNOW what they’ll use the weapons for. You KNOW the suffering they’ll cause! I… I know the suffering they’ll cause. The suffering they caused…”

Sirius felt a pang in his heart, like a part of him was dying. Still, his course remained unchanged. His face was of stone.

“I’ll say it once more, child. Let me do my work.”

“You always do this! You always give in to the demands! Why don’t you even try to do anything?!”

Sirius was getting progressively angrier.

“I will make that weapon, and I WILL protect you!”

So was Mio.

“Then PROTECT me! I’m strong and fast! A-and you’re big! Why can’t we fight back!?”

“You KNOW very well why not, child!”

Sirius approached, towering over the young girl despite his age. He frowned, his face dark with frustration.

“I’ve told you this. I belong t’a sacred order. I took a damn pledge to never use my hands for violence; ta merely build the arms and tools that combat evil. I can’t give it up for ANYTHING!”

Breathing heavily, Sirius came nearly chest to chest with the girl. Mio’s face was torn by conflict and frustration. Her voice became quiet, fragile.

“…You can’t, or you won’t?”

Sirius’ face was grim, lips taught as he made a silent puff on his pipe.

“…”

A sickening bar of conflicted emotions struck Mio in the gut. Betrayed, she turned away from her uncle.

“Fine then. I don’t need you.”

Mio began to run. Out the door, onto the street, into the night. She ran, away from her uncle, and towards the slums of the city.

“Mio! Child!”

The cold night air filled Sirius’ little corner shop, causing the candlelights to flicker. Sirius stood alone again at the front of the shop, staring at an open doorway. It was hopeless to try and pursue the child given his age and her mechanically enhanced legs.

The old man picked up his hammer and weighed it in his hand, contemplating its use. It felt heavy and lifeless. Finally, he turned to look at his forge and the icon in the back room.

“Dear Goddess, give me strength,” he said.