Fire and ToilMature

Ducking through the huge workings of the iron leviathans that powered the city Stryder wondered how many people had died in these workings, how many had been deafened by the continuous grinding of the gears or burned by the fist sized sparks of molten iron that rained down form the upper levels like rain. The factories were not a place for the faint of heart, the machine that Stryder walked through was just one of hundreds, and each one was constantly on the verge of total mechanical failure if it wasn't for the thousands of engineers like Stryder that kept them working. The Dwarves may have built them, but the humans kept the damn things running. 

Sliding out from a foot wide gap Stryder wiped the oil and grease off his hands before moving over to the control station and pulling down the thick lever. With a roar akin to the death beasts that lived beyond the wall the huge machine churned into life, the gears turning and pistons smoothly rising and falling. The inferno at the machines heart ignited and a great column of thick black smog began rising from its top, conjoining with the dozens of others on this floor and heading upwards to the open ceiling. Ringing his thick apron in his hands to clean off the last residue of grease Stryder was about to leave when a heavy hand pressed onto his shoulder and a head appeared beside his own. 'What was it?!' Bellowed Garon, his heavy voice almost entirely drowned out by the roar of the machines around them. 

Twisting so his mouth was barely an inch away from Garon's left ear Stryder bellowed, 'Broken socket in the main atrium!' Even this close he wasn't sure the lead engineer heard him, and this close the strong stench of Garon's foul body odour was almost unbearable. Having said that Stryder knew that he didn't exactly smell like a bunch of roses right now either, working eight hour shifts in a factory floor when the temperature rarely dropped below fifty degrees celsius made you sweat something cruel. And all Stryder had to do was sniff his work clothes after a shift to know he probably smelt like a horses arse right now. 

'Good job! You done?!' the head engineer shouted in reply, looking at Stryder through mirrored welders goggles that were almost permanently wrapped around his head.

'Yeah!'

Garon nodded and smacked him on the back with a shovel sized hand. 'See you tomorrow!'

Watching his employer walk away through the hail of molten ore that fell from the forge buckets without injury, despite the added limp from his old mechanical leg, Stryder smiled to himself. Garon was a good man, Stryder might have idolised him if he had been born to a different life, if he hadn't been given to the orphanage and trained to do what he did. Turning his back on the false dawn-light of the machines and their forges Stryder kept his eyes up to the forge buckets, watching for when one would pour it's molten contents and the sparks would begin to fly. Stryder Shrike was known in many different circles of the city for many different things, in the factory he was renowned for having worked for years and never been burned or injured by the sparks or the machines he maintained.

His training gave him many gifts it appeared.

Throwing his apron and goggles into his locker and left in just a wrinkled shirt and his overalls Stryder couldn't wait to get home and have a shower, a days work left him filthy, and if he didn't shower he wouldn't sleep until he felt clean. 'Hey man,' a familiar voice said. Turning Stryder smiled as Darron walked in with a cocksure smile and a wild spark behind his eyes. 'Guess who bedded that barmaid at Sprocket's last night!' 

'Your father?' Stryder smiled.

'Bah! He wishes. Rumour said she was a virgin, after last night I'm not so sure!' laughing loudly Darron threw his bag into his locker just as Stryder shut his own. 'How are you?'

'Dirty, and tired.' 

'No change there then,' he said with a small grin. 'Anything I need to know about the machines?' 

'I fixed two, seven and thirteen. Fourteen, eighteen and twenty-two are a bit clunky, might be worth giving them a check. And the higher ups are spitting cinders, apparently the Order aren't happy with our productivity.' Stryder said throwing the bag strap over his shoulder and shifting it so the sack sat comfortably across his back. 

'The Order aren't happy! What a bloody surprise, I tell you those pointy eared pricks should come down from their halls and work just one day with us and the dwarves.' Darron said viciously. 

'What all eighteen of them?' smiled Stryder. 

'I'm sure there'd be less of them after a day down here. Tools!' 

Stifling a laugh Stryder turned and headed out, 'Have a good day, stay safe.' 

'Safe?!' Darron shouted after him, 'Why would I need to be safe? Factory is future after all!' 

The walk home through the bowels of the under-hive was treacherous even during the day, but during the night it was even worse, the gangs came out at night and although rare throughout the rest of the city, murders and muggings were fairly common in the lower levels of the city where Stryder was given his home. Not that any of them scared him of course, he'd fought and killed almost every creature beyond the walls entirely on his own, he had the second longest battle record of all the Guild's children, thugs with knives and pistols held no fear for him. Finally reaching his apartment Stryder walked through the front door, dropped his bag, stripped down and immediately jumped in the shower. Water was rationed in the lower levels, allow him only four minutes of running water to wash away the stench of an entire day.

It wasn't much. But it was enough...just.

When the pipes in the wall clanked shut, all too soon, Stryder stood motionless for a short moment. The water beading on his muscled and extremely scarred body. Most people saw scars as ugly things to be ashamed of and hidden away, Stryder didn't see it that way. Each scar was a foe beaten, a challenge bested, a moment of death reached and surpassed by his skill and will to survive. Every known species of monster and beast had fallen beneath his axes all species bar one...

Eventually drying off and dressing himself Stryder sat on his bed staring out of his window, only a very small patch of sky could be seen between the high towers that housed the Elves halls, and tonight the sky was thick and brown with smog from the factories that kept the city alive. It made him feel uncomfortable, never being able to see the sky above his head, never to see the moon or stars working their way across the heavens...he never knew why he felt this way. He just did. He always had. 

Walking in to the third and last room in his tiny apartment Stryder pulled open the double doors. Smiling Stryder looked at his armour resting on it's stand, the silver chest plate with its black cloth cowl and segmented iron pauldrons sitting beside his duel axes, a gift from Gårak that had saved his life more times than he cared to count, and lastly his double barrelled shotgun, its cog workings and brass fitting scratched and scuffed after so many years of use in the field. 

That was who he was. That armour, those axes, that gun, that was who Stryder Shrike truly was. An assassin of the Guild and one of the greatest warriors in the city. Despite what other members would think. 

He just hoped he'd be called upon soon, he was getting bored, and his last mission...hadn't ended as well as he would have liked. 

Shutting the doors Stryder sighed and resigned himself to bed. His days were long and dull, and until the Guild called for him, they would remain that way for as long as required. 

He often dreamed at night...dream of a life before he left the orphanage, of a world of training, pain, stress and hurting. But also a world of happiness, camaraderie and trust. Their names never came to him, but their faces did. They smiled at him. He saw them, sitting in the dormitories late at night, sharing stories and giggling in the dark. He saw them training, fighting beside one another against every other child who wanted them dead, standing back to back and earning them a reputation of awe and fear in the other students. He remembered one of the boys, breaking his knee so badly Stryder and other boy had to carry him to safety while a strange girl covered their escape. He remembered her least of all, but he remembered being jealous of her, wishing he could beat her, just once...just once...

Jolting awake Stryder rubbed the sleep from his eyes and groaned, barely registering the red light on his night stand that was blinking in the darkness. The Guild was calling. And he would answer! 

The End

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