Hearts of Steel and Fire
"Today is a good day to die," bellowed the construct of metal. A dramatic pause is met with a chilling wind. "For you," he says over dramatically. "You mean for you!" pipes up a child with wooden sword in his hand. A baggy admiral's coat will be something he grows into one day, but not today. Holding his sword in both hands, the boy adds, "For none are as strong as the Pirate King!" Thunder claps in the background for an otherwise fine mid-summer afternoon. The metal monster and boy hero face off as two observers motion their hands. Magic weaves in to provide dramatic sound effects for the play battle in the back yard of the sea side home. "Your cantrips are getting sloppy," says the sharp voice of a a different construct. His body is made of polished quartz and attunes magic through his artificial life. Beside him is a young woman weaving magic through her aristocratic hands. "Shut it, you useless bucket of bolts" she snaps back sassily, "before I show you a bolt of fire." "Ford is the bucket of bolts. Im the bucket of fine crystals, and this lesson is about diversity of magic, but just your proclivity to evocation. Do try to keep focused," the crystal forged construct slightly shorter than the tiefling woman beside him. She chides, "Mrrrrgrrrgrrgrrr," and as the giant metal construct is stuck by the wooden sword by the child there is a booming sound. Overkill. Both the boy and his bot look to the woman. "Sis!" says the child, standing over a fallen construct who took the critical hit as a mock fatal blow. "Stop being such a butt. That was too loud. Ford couldn't hear my cooooool line." "Im sure it was lame," dismisses the infernal blessed woman as her mother walks by. "Hey, mom, can you see if dad can bring back some of the silk he raided from the warehouse?" The older woman looks past her daughter to the crystal forged beside her, "Creed. Is she picking up these poor manners from you?" "No, ma'am." "From Ford?" "No, ma'am." The woman looks to her daughter, "Well I know the daughter that I raised would know better to speak to me with that tone when she has two good legs to walk herself down to the docks and get it herself." The young woman smiles to her mother, "One day I'll get you to do something nice to me." "You'll be waiting a long time, dear," the mature woman says with a similar smile. Theirs is a different kind of love. A harsh love where their infernal heritage can breathe easy in the town of Freeport. "Mom, mom!" says the boy as he hops off of Ford's defeated torso. "I beat Ford! Boom! Crash!" The woman smiles, kneeling down to her youngest and cleans the dirt off of his face, "Oh yeah? Big strong warrior, little man?" "Yeah yeah!" he bounces, "Soooo. Can I go on the ship now? With big bros?" She shakes her head, "Don't grow up anything like those gambling louts. Have a brain. Lord knows our family needs at least one." She sassily looks to her only daughter. "Oh hah hah hah," the young woman replies to her mother, "I'm more capable than..." and the crystal forge interrupts, "What the young lady was saying is that she appreciates all the effort the Lord and Lady have put into her education and strives to raise the station of our house." The young woman, in fact, did not mean any of that. The Lady of the house ruffles her youngest's hair, "Well I need to be off to check in the family mistakes. There will be Hell to pay if you don't finish your chores. I'm looking at you, little monster," she says down to the boy who squints defiantly up at his mother. There is an air of silence that no one will speak to when the mother leaves. It would be the last time any of them would see her again. "Ford?" the boy begins, turning around to the creature that towers over men. Next to a boy of his age, Ford is a giant of metal. "Nope," the siege construct says with a deep, melodic voice. "Your chores." "But!" he protests "If we finish them together there will be time for a story." Ford looks down to the kiddo with unblinking red eyes. "Are you trying to coerce me?" The young tiefling boy says in a poor lie, "N-No," and looks away. Leaning in he whispers up impishly, "Is it working, though?" Ford laughs, "Hah hah hah hah, not even close. You need to work on that if you ever want to be a great Pirate King!" The boy comes up and puts his arms around Ford's shin, giving it a hug, "I don't want to be the pirate king any more. I wanna be a captain, just like Dad, an' I'll bring sis with me and Creed. And we will see the world together, find adventure and... and... you'll be my First Mate so you never have to leave my side." There is a silence to the purity of the child's statement. It is broken by the young tiefling woman's words, "You dummy, the Pirate King is a captain, too." The child squeezes the metal leg of his personal protector, "One day I'll be as strong as you, Ford. Forged from fire and steel." Ford drops to a knee, patting the child on the head. Creed, the crystalforged tutor, corrects, "Young master, Ford is a D'Acier class siege warforge. You are a tiefling. That would require a fair bit of metal grafted onto you." Ford has no facial expression, but the kindness comes from his voice, "You'll just have to have a heart of steel and fire, won't you?" Fire bursts into the hand of the young woman's hands, "Come closer, little brother, and I can help you with that." There is a scream as the child runs away. The three laugh. Everyone is ready to get on with another day on land when the skies open up. The ribbons of purple, orange, and purple give way to a blue, cloudless sky. Creed is the first to notice, blue eyes cast upward. The sky rarely does this. It starts as a curiosity, like watching an eclipse, which evolves into genuine concern. "Young miss," Creed says as he motions a single crystalline finger upwards. She looks. Ford looks. The boy continues to run around, acting out the fear of his sister. "We have to get mom," she says. When Freeport was attacked years ago, she was there. Creed puts a hand on her shoulder, "Scared?" The woman quickly slaps it away, "No. Its practical." Creed nods slowly, "It sure is." Despite the sarcasm, it is. Ford nods to the both of them. "I'll go." The hulking man of metal starts out to the streets when there is screaming. His head turns sharply to see a ball of white fire strike a house and turn it into righteous ash. A tall, perfect being of white light and holy vengence flies down, cutting down the home's guardian warforge in a single stroke. Zealots of a holy church yell out, "Purge the demons! Return them back to Hell!" Ford quickly backpedals to his family, "We don't have time for that," he says as he finds the child. "We have to get out of the city. Now." The quick jabs subside as the two wizards nod their head. "I'll scout ahead," Creed says as his body begins to shimmer and blend to the background. "Hey. Hey. I need your head in the game," Ford shakes the young woman as the trauma of the last attack cripples her. "We were built to serve this family," he says, "a horrible idea, really, but here we are. If I die because my 'keyword' holders are weak, I'm going to never live it down." "You'd be dead, you idiot," the young woman rages, "and I don't need pity from a bucket of bolts that reads us bedtime stories." There it is. That fire. It burns away the fear. She smiles at him and nods. "I'll get my brother. Do your duty, if you can manage it." "Oh I'm sure I'd do a better job than you, with those pitiful cantrips earlier," Ford says to get one last jab in before he heads to the street. The first real sign of conflict erupts into the street as he fends off a small group of zealots. The young tiefling wizard keeps her brother behind him, launching bolts of fire from her fingertips. The four advance through the city as sacred light strikes down in blinding fury. They do so knowing that any wrong step could mean the end. One minute Creed is scouting ahead of them and in another he is gone. A blast of holy fire hits the ground he is standing on. It highlights how frail and fragile their lives are. For a moment the young tiefling starts to shake. "Sis?" asks the young boy, who is holding up to the stress of war far better. "Sis, I don't want to die," he finally says, holding her close, "but, as long as we are together, its going to be okay." Ford nods his head once, "Thats right, captain. This is your origin story." The boy pipes up with courage renewed, "Yeah!" and the infernal woman looks up to Ford. "Et nunc absolvo vos." As the words come forth, Ford feels the bindings of his service break. "I... Creed... but not you, too." she struggles to find the right words. Ford, now free to make his own decisions without fear of catastrophic consequences, says, "We don't die today. So long as we keep moving." She nods back to her childhood guardian and her brother, "Thats right. Its a numbers game. They can't keep a full perimeter of the city." A hand points upwards, "Sweeping. Hit and run tactics. The squads do clean up after the radiant explosions." Excited, the boy says, "We got this!" And they do. With morale restored, they evade and fight through the southern quarters of the city. Carefully they use a smugglers route out of the city that places them not far from the trade road. The two tieflings exhale with relief. "We did it!" the young woman says. "Down!" Ford says, pushing the pair down as a searing ray melts a pauldron off of the metallic monstrosity. In the sparse woods they come face to face with an angelic creature. Tall, alabaster skin and wings of a dove. Flowing, untainted white robes accented in gold and red. "None with the infernal taint are allowed to leave," it says, words flowing like dangerous honey. "Leave where," Ford challenges, making a motion behind him with his hand for the two tieflings to stay behind him. With no clear shot, the angel speaks to the construct. "From where I stand. The law has been decreed by Aries. And so it shall be called out," the angel says with an air of nobility beyond reproach of ethics or morality. "It has been reinforced by many of the celestial hosts, watching over you, noble sentinel, and ensuring your safety. Kindly move aside so that we may keep these lands safe." Ford asks, "So, these infernal borne creatures need to be purged. However, anything past you is beyond your jurisdiction?" "That is correct. We do not seek to purge all infernals from this land just yet. Today simply to bring order to the city limits." The idea of 'without exception' comes from his charismatic tone. Ford turns his head over to the two tieflings. They have been his family for so long. Yet all it takes is to give them up and he can live. Its a clear option. "I have my freedom to make my own choices, that was a big mistake." The angel lowers his hands as Ford continues, "And it is a shame you are not as strong as me. So I can press on. You would be too weak to press on. You couldn't possibly press on, not looking back, where as I can." The boy starts to pipe up when the tiefling puts a hand over his mouth. She starts to tear up as she says, "You'd be surprised what we can do when we put our minds to it. Its not our birth that binds our fate, but our hearts, and our hearts are strong." The angel puts a hand to his own chest, "We are not without mercy. We offer a quick end so your soul may be purified. That strength will find greatness in the next life." Yet he misses out on the tough love that the family has for each other. He doesnt understand why the tieflings are carried on the beast's back. Not until it is too late. "That isn't necessary, simply leave them here for me to deal with," the angel says to Ford as he approaches. Ford doesn't comply, picking up his pace. "Deception!" The first streak of white fire passes by the metal beast as he breaks into a sprint, "Hold on!" he says as steam hisses out from his joints. His soul core activates with an internal, ki-like, source of energy causing him to sprint like a bull at the angel. The next blast hits Ford in the chest, melting several inches into his chasis without breaking his stride. A second peppers his body. Getting past the finish line, the metal forged guardian gets punched so deeply into his face that his voice sparks into metallic screeches. "Ford!" the boy says as the beast staggers. Dropping to a knee, he finds his vision darkening. They have passed the line, but remain under assault. "ZZZzzkkkkttt," the crushed helm replies. One good eye looks at the tiefling. No more words. "I'll keep him safe," as she leans in to put a hand on Ford's face. No rest for either of them is granted. A searing blast is sent to the three, intercepted by Ford as he shifts his body to take the blast. His arm is melted by the holy fire, swinging by a strand before hitting the ground. The tiefling children run away as Ford picks himself up. "Zzk kkktt kkkt," Ford replies back, his ability to speak rended by the angel's strike. "We will hunt them," the angel says calmly, "this changes nothing except it taints you with sin." He attempts to fire upon the tieflings, as Ford braces into the shot. The beast steps in closer, blocking shot after shot until he staggers in front of the angel. "I see now. You are wishing to atone for your sin," the angel says. "Zzzzbbbkktt," Ford notes, nodding his head jerkily. "Come, misguided abomination, and accept salvation," the angel says, no longer able to fire upon the children. What keeps a warforge compliant, despite being larger, are binding words. Words to paralyze them. Words to disable them. And ever since Freeport was attacked the first, they held words to detonate. Something that Ford knows, but the angel does not. Ford drapes a weak arm around the angel like a man finding religion. "There there, child," the angel says, "mercy comes to those that seek it." "Zkkkkt," Ford says. As the two children run, the young woman keeps her word and does not look back as the sound of the explosion in the background ends a chapter in their lives.