Battle Quills... ready! Circulation: 122,607,461 Issue: 247 | 7th day of Swimming, Y8
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The Perfect Lock

by shadowcristal


Clang! Bang! Sizzle!

     The red-hot creation that had been carefully dipped into the water was rapidly turning black, and the red Draik smith gave it a tight, satisfied smile. The iron base had been formed; only the details remained. It would be a sturdy and beautiful lock. Perhaps the best he had made.

     Thor grunted and picked the lock out of the water, letting it cool on the counter. "Marek!" he shouted, calling for his apprentice. "How about some lunch!"

     The striped Krawk skipped inside the workshop, carrying two bags of sandwiches. "All done and ready, master," he said, and looked around. "What took you so long?"

     "This," Thor said and pointed to his newly made lock.

     "Wow... Isn't it like the thousandth one?" the Krawk inquired curiously, but by the way he was impatiently twitching his hands, it seemed like lunch was much more important.

     "Possibly," the Draik replied. "Let's go outside and have some lunch. Perhaps you'd like to have a try at the interior today?"

     "All by myself?" the apprentice asked hopefully.

     "I think I'll be busy with that lock, so I'll say yes. But don't you dare to mess up anything!" Thor warned jokingly.

     As the Draik bit into his scrumptious sandwich, he couldn't help but to feel grateful about Marek. The Krawk had popped into his smithy a couple of weeks ago, touching everything and asking annoying questions. Since he was so curious, Thor decided that he might as well as be an apprentice.

     Perhaps it had been for the better, since Marek had a witty grin and was disgustingly cheerful for no reason most of the time. He was quite opposite to the gruff Thor, even though the Draik sometimes doubted if there wasn't more to the Krawk. Sometimes Marek would grin wickedly and a dark glint would enter his eye, but perhaps that was just Thor's imagination.

     Having finished the lunch, the Draik thanked his apprentice and returned to the sturdy shed he worked in and took a look at the lock again. The distinct lump of iron seemed eager to be carved out and carefully decorated into a lock.

     Thor took out his boxful of tools and got down to work. First there was the interior, which hadn't turned into a haphazard mess when he had cooled it off in the water. That was something good. Taking out a magnifying glass, Thor put it on a special stand so he would have both hands free to work with those finicky details. Then the Draik walked over to the metal storage room and picked out a couple of suitable metals to work with, like stainless steel for the coverage and silver for the decorations.

     Picking a suitable, malleable metal that would turn stiff when a liquid solution would touch it, Thor started working. He made as many nooks and crannies he could fit into that lock, and set them at the different levels. Then the Draik carefully measured the spaces and placed movable items so that the lock would actually lock. When he was satisfied with this nit-picky work, Thor poured the liquid and made the insides hard too.

     Having completed the insides, the Draik knew that it was time for the key. For the first time since entering the smithy after lunch he raised his head and noticed that Marek was looking at him with quite some interest.

     "Haven't you got work to do?" the smith asked with a deliberate slow voice.

     "O-of course! Please forgive me, master!" the Krawk exclaimed and bent his head over his own lock.

     Thor selected a silver alloy for the key, and with his tools he made it into a suitable key for the lock. The small hammer banged on the key-to-be, turning the clump of metal into something that resembled a flattened pancake. With a sharp knife, the Draik cut out the jagged part of the key so they would turn the lock, and with a wide flourish, he left a lot of space for decoration on the round end.

     Swapping his sharp knife for one with precision, Thor started to engrave the key, and slowly roses bloomed on the silvery surface. The small part of his mind that was not completely into his work told him that his apprentice was watching him once again, and that it was starting to get too fancy. He knew that Miss Alidera, who had ordered the lock, adored roses, but too much of a good thing was not a good thing at all. The Draik decided to smooth some of them out and turned those petals into small leaves instead.

     The key was put into a small pail, full of solidifying water. Soon it gleamed like bright silver, but it was much durable than the fragile, decorative metal. Thor blew carefully on the key and dried it off with his apron, putting it beside the half-done lock.

     The Draik picked up the lock itself and tested it. It was strong, strong and durable. With a nice, stainless steel coating and some surface treatment, it would be able to withstand any weather. Taking some more of that alloy, Thor formed a shiny front on the lock with a key-shaped hole so it looked like a proper lock. Then he took his engraving knife and made a few slight etches that resembled roses before moving onto the semi-circle of round metal that made it into a characteristic lock. For fancy, the Draik wrapped a few silvery vines along with it, and as a finishing touch, he put two leaves, one on each end that touched the lock mechanism.

     Now that he was almost done, Thor took a step back and admired his handiwork. Not bad... His intuition told him that it really might be the best one he had done, the perfect lock... But it was too early to judge.

     Trying not to think about the artistic aspect, the Draik began the tedious process of encasing every inch with stainless steel so it wouldn't rust. The rose petals lost their sharp edge but still had some of their striking contour left. Thor had to admit to himself that he was a little disappointed about it. Since he was so big and obviously no beauty, the Draik had wished to create something, just his own 'beautiful' thing.

     Still, it had that special touch he had given it, and the Draik couldn't resist patting himself on the back, if only mentally. When he surveyed his workshop, Thor noticed that Marek had bent down his head quickly, and sighed mentally. It was good to be curious, but only hard work and effort would give results, not being flighty and curious.

     The Draik picked up the almost-done lock and carried it over to the corner where he used the burner. Hot fire and blue flames were spat out from the tube, and slowly the surface took on another metallic glance as it became smooth, the rough details that were too small to pry off now gone.

     Carefully, afraid to mutilate the surface, Thor slowly let water drip upon the lock to cool it off, not sinking it into a large bucket like with the iron base. He placed the finished product on a special stand and removed the magnifying glass that had assisted him with the details.

     Looking at his lock, the Draik couldn't help but feel proud. It gleamed so brightly, encased in several layers of metal. The details stood out and twinkled, made sharper by the surface treatment where they had been dull and dim before. The key beside it was no less extravagant, and the whole set looked more like a piece of art than just a simple lock.

     Yes... There it was. His very own beautiful beauty. Thor was a simple person, and his dream of achieving something great had now been fulfilled. But that was not the most important thing. It looked delicate and magnificent on the outside, but it would be as good any other lock, sturdy and durable, and that was the thing of uttermost importance to him. It would be a good, useful lock, keeping whatever that was locked safe and sound.

     Eyeing the window, the Draik was shocked to realize that the process had taken the whole afternoon and much more. It was too late to deliver it to miss Alidera now, but she probably wouldn't mind.

     "How pretty..." the Krawk muttered, leaving his workspace and coming over to admire the silvery-grey lock. "It is almost like magic..." he whispered.

     The word 'magic' set Thor's teeth on edge. Magic was the lazy people's shortcut, but in the end, it was all just smoke and mirrors. Hard work was something that not magic could compare to, and to have his perfect lock called that...

     "Not magical," the Draik retorted dryly. "I made it with my own hands, not just waving and pointing with a finger."

     "Of course not," his apprentice said politely. "Shall I deliver it to miss Alidera?"

     "No," Thor grunted gruffly. "We might as well as take it to her tomorrow. A dinner now would be nice, though."

     As the Krawk waddled out of the room, the smith couldn't help but to feel apprehensive about that small, black fire that had been alight in Marek's eyes when he looked at the lock. He had no longer been cheerful, but in awe... and something more?

     The Draik did not want to think about that, and few words escaped his lips during dinner. Afterwards he quickly went to sleep, hoping to get this compelling danger off his hands. Marek appeared to be a little bit too interested in it, Thor felt.

     In the middle of the night, Thor woke up to see a shadow in the other room, but when he came closer to investigate, there was no one there. The Draik decided that it must've been the mental exhaustion of the work and went back to sleep. Still, he could not help but to feel like he was hearing the floor creaking, but every time he turned around to check, there was no one there.

     The first thing in the morning that the Draik did was to deliver the lock to Miss Alidera. The royal Usul smiled gratefully as she received it, promising payment within a few days.

     "You see, it's for my special treasure-chest," Miss Alidera explained as she locked a metal box with rose motif.

     "Treasures..." Thor muttered. He could not understand why rich people had to have expensive, useless things and worry all the time about having them stolen. He had his smithy, the metals, his tools, and that was it.

     "Well, thank you very much," the Usul said as she waved him off.

     "You're welcome," the Draik replied as he walked back to the smithy.

     Once again he got started on a new piece, but this one just didn't seem as fulfilling as the rose lock, its insides being rougher and the shape more oval than round. Still, it was a sturdy and good lock, with hard work put into it.

     It was when lunch rolled around that Thor realized that he hadn't seen Marek around. The Draik checked every room, but it was as if the Krawk had disappeared. How queer... Though sometimes Marek would go out for errands for a day or so, but Thor couldn't recall asking him to do anything.

     "Mister Smith!" a familiar voice cried loudly. Miss Alidera was running towards him, the lace-trimmed edge of her skirts just slightly stained with the characteristic Meridell mud.

     "What is it, Miss Alidera?" Thor asked, trying to force some politeness in his voice. Marek would be better at this, he knew.

     "The lock... It's gone!" the Usul cried in dismay. "I don't know... I just put it on and I've carried the key with me all the time, but it was gone and all the treasures in my treasure box too!"

     "H-how?" the Draik asked, stunned and stupefied. His locks did not break. It was the first time somebody approached him because his work was bad... or was it? He had created the perfect lock, but it certainly wasn't all that perfect anymore. Should've forgotten about the roses, Thor instinctively decided as he followed Miss Alidera to the scene of crime.

     "There!" the Usul cried and pointed. The metallic treasure box was wide open, like an empty hole that desperately wanted to swallow something.

     Thor bent down and checked the box. There were no pawprints... Of course, the culprit wouldn't be so stupid. But strangely enough there were no scratch marks or any imprints, signs that the lock would've been broken. Even a good lockpick would have a hard time trying to undo the delicate mechanisms in every nook and cranny without leaving some substantial marks. The Draik was no detective, but he concluded with some personal relief that the lock had held... But then, what could've happened? Perhaps it was opened with a spare key? No, he had made the only key, and the shocked Miss Alidera was waving it in front of his face.

     "I'm sorry," the Draik told Miss Alidera, "but I don't know what happened. If you look closely, you can see that there are no scratch marks or anything, so the lock wasn't broken or picked."

     The Usul stopped waving the key in front of him, and stared at the box. She had to admit that Mister Smith had told the truth, and sighed. "I was hoping I could keep my treasures safe..." The anger flared up inside her again. "It's all your fault! If you hadn't made such a fancy lock but a better one..."

     Thor shook his head, but he backed out of the outraged Usul's way. He sensed that this wasn't going to be good. The lock had been perfect, hadn't it? If only he knew why...

     Soon the Draik was kicked out of Miss Alidera's extravagant house, though he didn't mind the least. The only question on his mind was why, and he walked back to his smithy.

     Upon reaching the smithy, the Draik realized that Marek still wasn't there. How strange... Once again he checked all the rooms, but this time he inspected, examine and scrutinized everything instead of just having a brief look.

     The waters had been used, perhaps the iron tools too, but he had used all that when he was making that new lock. However, the detail instruments and the fine metals were also easily within reach, and the magnifying glass hastily tuck away.

     Suspicious thoughts entered Thor's mind, but he told himself that Marek might've been ambitious enough to work extra on that task he had been given.

     A sudden gust of wind entered through the window and carried a piece of paper, which the Draik snatched. Thor liked his wings fine, but he wasn't keen on using them and preferred the mundane way of doing things. Unfolding the paper, he confirmed his suspicious.

     It was there, carefully drawn down to every finicky detail, the strangely jagged parts and the small leaves. The key...

     A series of events, what might've happened, started to dawn on Thor. Perhaps his apprentice had taken the key and made a double, while he was sleeping, and then snuck off to steal it... The tools were there, and he had heard noises and seen things last night.

     But why? Marek had been cheerful and curious, perhaps a bit in awe... And maybe that something more? The Draik shook his head sadly. He should've seen it sooner, that black fire, the hint of jealousy, the way the student thought himself superior of the master...

     But how? The Krawk hadn't been that good of a smith, never having any patience to deal with details. Of course... magic... Why had he not realized that? Magic would copy it perfectly, if the wielder of the power was powerful enough.

     The perfect lock... It would only be a memory now, and a miserable one at that. He had been fooled and betrayed. So much for perfection, beauty... It inspired so much jealousy and bad feelings.

     Perhaps he hadn't done it the right way? But that was the only way he knew...

     Thor picked up the lock he had been working on and realized that perhaps he would never be able to touch a lock again with all those feelings inside. Better to forget it all, move to some different country and set shop, forget about all this. The wound of the betrayal was still fresh, but the Draik felt like he wanted to do everything properly.

     Of course, Miss Alidera shouldn't have to pay when she had suffered that badly. His good name and reputation would be tarnished with this deceitful thief, until he was no longer able to stand it. Better to move now, when the most of the village was unaware of the awful news.

     With his mind made up, Thor got down to work. He hid the items he could not take with him and got food for the next few days. The half-made lock was buried under the large oak tree where he and Marek were having lunch yesterday, something that felt like it had occurred a century ago.

     Soon the Draik was ready to go, and he swung his pack on his back as he left the village. He had not been much of a social person anyway, so teary farewells weren't his thing. As Thor set his foot on the road, he felt the burden of those recent memories recede. Travelers on the road did not look back at the past, but took the path towards future.

     Perhaps he could start an honest living, albeit a different one. Maybe a farmer? Or a one of those herders for Babaas? As the Draik let his eyes turn towards the sky, he realized that there was really no perfection. Everything was fine the way it was; you didn't have to make so much of an effort to just follow a concept. As he walked on, the evening breeze brushing his face, Thor figured that being a traveler wasn't that bad. He felt free, free from his duties and tasks, for now he had none. A piece of him lost long ago was coming back to him, like a proper key that clicked nicely into a lock. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad, after all...

The End

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