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Labor of Love

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He was a middle aged businessman. A native to Rush Valley for most of his life. He sold higher quality automail parts at his shop on the other side of town and like many others here, he had an automail limb. Most of his left forearm and down was lost to an accident in his younger days. Though he wasn't a mechanic himself, he knew quality when he saw it, and he knew that the young apprentice of Mr. Garfiel was nothing short of prodigal. It was common knowledge around here after all. The man sat idly on a bench within Atelier Garfiel.

He had made an appointment for her first opening that morning, trying to beat the midday bustle of the crowds across the city, so it was surprising to find the mechanic already in the front shop with another customer.

He looked down at his watch. It read ten after the hour. Ten minutes later than his appointment was scheduled for. The girl had simply told him when he had entered the shop those ten minutes earlier, that she wouldn't be much longer before asking him to have a seat anywhere. So here he sat, waiting his turn, watching her tinker on a young man's automail right arm.

He felt as though he should be upset that his appointment was delayed by another customer, but he couldn't bring himself to be. Everyone knew Miss Rockbell was nothing if not orderly and automail repair took time after all. Still, he swore he'd asked for the earliest available time.

Glancing to his side he noticed her schedule for that day was laid on the workbench. Just as expected, it was completely packed from open to close; her services were wildly popular with residents of Rush Valley. Scanning back up the mechanic's agenda, he saw that he was in fact the first name listed on the appointment chart. Slated at seven a.m. sharp. It was now a quarter after seven.

He turned back to observe the current customer's maintenance. Though, it'd be unfair to call it maintenance, it looked more like a total overhaul of his arm from roughly the elbow down. At least that's what he gathered from the tools and scrap parts strewn about the place. By the looks of things, she'd been at work on the arm for a couple of hours now. How the boy attained such extensive damage to his prosthetic, he didn't know. Poor kid, must have been a hell of an accident. And not just the recent damages, clearly whatever took the arm in the first place was not a pretty scenario to mull over.

From his first impressions of the lad's physique, he'd have to guess he was a farm hand; though the choice of clothing was perhaps a tad eccentric. Maybe he lost it to some machinery. Regardless of how, it must have been traumatic. The false limb reached all the way to his shoulder. He must have certainly been within inches of meeting his maker.

On the topic of the boy's automail arm, it was...

Well…

There was no other way to describe it.

It was perfection.

Only for a moment did he consider that it must have been the work of some unknown master, far from Rush Valley. Then he noted the familiarity with which the young woman weaved her way through the inner mechanisms. There was no doubt about it, she must have made it herself.

The young man's metal arm was faced palm up with the panel on the back of his forearm removed, giving a clear view of the complex web within. The businessman could only gawk at the pinnacle of automail design before him. Every wire, every rod, connection, gear, rotor, and hinge was clearly placed with the utmost care for ease of access, weight distribution, and versatile range of motion. Not just the design, the parts themselves were even of extraordinary quality. He'd seen many of them before, passing through his shop or at displays throughout the town. They were on par with the most skilled artisans of machinery, and were generally reserved for the highest bidders. Many of these would have needed to be special ordered, they weren't readily available at the drop of a hat. No part was either too large or too small. Yes, every piece must have been individually sized and fit for this arm. No replaceable parts to speak of. And it was clearly practical too. The metals used were highly durable, able to withstand literally tons of force. Yet, simultaneously feather light; relatively speaking of course. The metal composition must have been handpicked.

For a moment, the man wondered again what could have caused so much damage to such a resilient limb.

The arm may have been a beast, but it was beautiful one as well. If you removed the need for any functionality, it could have been placed alongside the works of the great sculptors of ancient Aerugo. It was made to have the appearance of a totally anatomically correct arm, perfectly proportioned to its wearer. It seemed as though it was made to not just be a useful replacement for the lost appendage, but to make the poor soul forget he ever lost it to begin with.

The businessman hadn't seen commercial automail quite like this before. In fact, he'd hardly seen better in the hands of military engineers, aside from maybe those ones they had way up north. The sheer effort of design, testing, and implementation for a final product so streamlined and optimized must have taken a month minimum. And that's assuming she didn't have other responsibilities to take care of, which of course she would normally.

This arm must have been months, if not years in the making. Of course to a layman's eye, they'd probably have guessed a few days. Now that was just ridiculous! To someone like himself, who had been around automail for most of his life, he knew what classified as exceptional work. And as an entrepreneur of the industry, he knew just how pricey that work could run someone. He didn't even want to think about having to empty his coffers for automail as good as this boy's.

He returned from his thoughts, noting that Miss Rockbell seemed to be at the tail end of a lecture on the practice and importance of a long list of maintenance techniques. The young man looked annoyed but listened nonetheless. How, he thought, this boy could be at all aggravated when he had a work of art for a right arm was beyond him.

The boy stood up from the table at which he sat, walking towards a suitcase with a red coat draped over it near the entrance while the young mechanic milled about, returning tools to their correct drawers and shelves. He gathered from their conversations earlier, that this young man was apparently an alchemist. He could be employed by the state, which would explain the higher quality prosthetic, not to mention where he got the money to pay for it. However, at such a young age that seemed unlikely…

"So, how much do I owe you this time?"

Miss Rockbell looked up from brushing metal shavings off the workbench, apparently surprised to hear him speak. She stared blankly at him for only a second before closing her eyes with a smirk.

"Well I should make you pay double for dropping by on such short notice…"

The boy appeared firmly irritated before sighing and reaching to his pocket.

"…But I suppose I can manage with the usual payment."

The boy paused and glanced back at her, somewhat perplexed. He grinned and continued to pull out a wad of bills, which he quickly thumbed through and handed to the blonde mechanic.

She didn't even bother to double check the amount she was given before shoving it into her own pocket.

This whole exchange was getting more and more unusual for the businessman. Normally when transactions were completed, a bill of sale was issued to be paid usually within the week, if not already covered upfront. These things were very professional, especially in a master craftsmen's shop like Garfiel's. But she didn't have anything for him.

By now, the young alchemist was sauntering down the street, being joined by an enormous man wearing a vintage looking suit of armor whom had apparently been waiting outside. Miss Rockbell, noticing them leaving, quickly ran from her tidying to the door yelling after them,

"And don't forget to oil it regularly!"

If the alchemist heard her he didn't react.

She cupped her hands around her mouth as if to make sure he would hear her this time,

"And call ahead next time!"

The boy didn't turn, but merely raised his nonmetallic hand in a half wave.

She stood there for a few seconds watching them go, before turning back to the seemingly forgotten customer, smiling brightly.

"Sorry about the wait, I just had to finish up with him."

The man wanted to ask about the odd circumstances of the appointment, but he let it pass.

"It's quite alright Miss Rockbell! I know you have many folks to attend to."

Her smile grew, content that he wasn't upset by the delay, and went to gather supplies to begin the man's maintenance.

While she darted around the shop, he examined his own arm, comparing it in his mind to that of that young man's that had just left. His was also constructed by Miss Rockbell, completely from scratch. Though, it was nowhere near as exceptional as the boy's had been. His curious mind got the better of him and he finally voiced his questions.

"So Miss Rockbell, I wasn't aware you took special orders."

"I don't."

She hadn't turned or hesitated to answer.

"Well surely you must, all mechanics here do. If a customer wanted to pay more for a higher quality you would, correct?"

The man was baffled as to why she would attempt to deny it when the evidence had been in front of him no more than five minutes earlier.

She had now returned to him with an armful of tools. Sitting on a stool, she began to arrange them next to his arm which was resting on the workbench.

She laughed lightly.

"I have the same rates for everyone, and I always put my all into each and every piece of automail my hands touch. So, none of my customers should ever have to worry about any of my prosthetics being better or worse than another."

Now the man was wholly confused.

"Sorry to pry into your business Miss, but that boy that was just in here, your last customer-"

She glanced up at the mention of 'customer'.

"-he had an automail arm of yours correct?"

She watched him carefully. She was beginning to catch on where he was going with this.

"Yes. And a leg too…"

"I couldn't help but notice the amazing quality of that young lad's automail, surely it must have cost a small fortune!"

She had now begun testing the maneuverability of his fingers.

"I don't make him pay any more than any of my customers."

"But Miss Rockbell, I've rarely seen such exceptional work, even here in the automail capital of the world! You could easily earn five times the standard rates on a piece like that!"

Pausing in her inspection, she responded slowly,

"Maybe I could, but there's…"

She looked thoughtful, perhaps apprehensive to even continue.

"I'm afraid there's more put into that automail than I could ever give to my other clients."

The man watched her grow more solemn, realizing that his worries of favoritism were not being denied.

She continued to work for a few moments in silence before speaking up,

"To be honest, I wouldn't charge him a thing if he didn't insist."

She became visibly uneasy, stammering out a more thorough explanation before the man grew upset at having his mechanic reveal that she lets particular customers get freebies.

"I-I don't want to sound like I'm prioritizing my customers, which I promise I don't! Only him! I-I mean-"

She sighed before continuing,

"He might not think so, but let's just say I owe it to him…"

So that was it. There was something more personal with the client in question. Yet, he couldn't understand why she wouldn't offer this service up to anyone else. She'd be the richest automail mechanic to ever grace the field of mechanical prosthetics if she wanted to. Again, he tried to sell his case as to why she should open up to custom commissions.

"Miss Rockbell, I can understand that you may not feel the need to charge that young man more but please, people around here would die to get automail of that quality! I know you're well versed but I shouldn't need to tell you that in that arm alone are some of the highest quality materials, most advanced mechanical designs to date, the most precise-"

His frantic rant about her masterful work was cut off by the mechanic's cheery laughter. Dumbfounded by her reaction, he attempted to finish his point,

"Miss, that was one of the best pieces of automail I've ever see-"

"Well it better be!"

She was now grinning ear to ear, clearly proud of the high praise. She turned her gaze beyond the shops front entrance to where the morning sun was slowly rising higher above the mountains. Her smile fell ever so slightly, and her bright eyes became distant as if she were someplace beyond those peaks with the golden sun.

"Sometimes, it seems like the only thing I have to keep him safe..."