“You must learn to control the flames of Maegera if you wish to master the Adamantine forge.” Dethen said, “And in order to control Maegera’s fire, you will have to conquer your fear of him.”
“Only a fool wouldn’t be afraid of an ancient and malevolent being of primordial fire…” He trailed off and belatedly added “Master.”
“This is true Apprentice, however I didn’t say to stop being afraid; I said to conquer your fear. Do not let it rule your actions, but instead allow it to advise. Fear of this monster is an appropriate reaction until you realize that it is bound.”
Durrak flinched as he spoke the words in Ignan, the language of Flame itself, which opened the Gate to Maegera’s fire. The elemental flame roared forth, bathing the ingot of Adamantine in impossible heat. The metal shimmered and began to run in rivulets down into a flat mold almost the same shape as the sword he would eventually be making from it.
Wearing nothing but an enchanted apron over a loincloth, Durrak took a deep breath and picked up his hammer and squared his shoulders. This was the only way he was going to be able to face his parents again. He had to surpass their expectations. There was no way he was going to fail.
“LITTLE MAGGOT.” A voice slammed its way into his skull. “WHAT IS IT YOU WANT?” This wasn’t supposed to happen, the monster was supposed to be contained!
In spite of the pressure he felt crushing his body, Durrak raised his chin. He was a Dwarf after all, and he had his pride. If Maegera was going to kill him, then he was going to look the demon in his face when it happened.
“I don’t want to fail my parents oh Master of the eternal flame. I want to live up to the expectations of my family, my clan and my God.”
“IS THAT SO? AND WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I WILL HELP YOU?” The assault on his entire body and soul was more than he could take and he knew it.
“Why not?” He asked, “What else are you doing?”
Maegera’s laugh shook the marrow of his bones, “YOU HAVE SPIRIT YOUNG CHILDE OF THE EARTH. THE LAST OF YOUR KIND I SPOKE TO THUS BROKE HIS SKULL WITH HIS FORGE HAMMER TRYING TO BASH ME OUT YET YOU HAVE ENOUGH SPARK TO MAKE DEMANDS. VERY WELL, THE BLADES YOU WISH SHALL BE FORGED IF YOU HAVE THE FORTITUDE TO ACCOMPLISH IT.”
Durrak’s body trembled with the effort of swinging the hammer. Sweat poured from his body and his breath came in short gasps. He refused to allow his hand to unclench from the haft of the long handled forge hammer. The Ignan words of dismissal fell from his lips like lead and the fires cut off as though they’d never been there. Two flawless swords, each three paces long and made of the strange marbled metal that only one forge he knew of could melt lay cooling on the stone workbench.
“DO NOT QUENCH THEM LITTLE MAGGOT.” Maegera’s voice echoed in his mind, “THEY WILL COOL IN THEIR OWN TIME.”
Durrak wore his exhaustion like a cloak, but he was satisfied. Now he would be able to concentrate on what gave him passion. Now he could make jewelry.
A voice that caressed his mind like a tongue of flame touching dry wood. It carried with it the ring of a thousand distant forge hammers and the implacable strength of the bones of the earth.
“You have done well to bend the metal and flame to your will. It shows the mettle that is needed to be forged properly.”
Durrak shuddered as the touch of Thraingaar slipped from his mind. Surely he had imagined his God’s presence. He was nothing but the first son of the third Noble House. His parents were mere Battle Leaders and Speakers. Perhaps more important than some, but not enough to be of anyone’s notice. Certainly not the God of the Forge.
Callindra swore, the oath drawing a startled glance from one of Tanner’s warriors who was scouting ahead with her. None of his men could get used to her being a warrior, her not being in a dress or her being a competent scout. She was stuck halfway between exasperation and smiling in triumph.
“Another god rotting dead end.” She concluded, “Go back and inform the others.”
He jerked awkwardly and saluted, turning to run back as she walked along the wall, double checking for passages that might have been missed. A glimmer of light caught her eye, and although she thought it likely one of the many clumps of strange phosphorescent moss that grew down here, she wasn’t taking any chances.
The wall exploded in a twisted tangle of misshapen arms and legs and only Callindra’s lightning reflexes saved her from going down beneath the onslaught of a half dozen monsters with scaly skin and glowing emerald eyes. They hissed in hunger and closed with her more quickly than she thought possible, raking at her with wickedly long claws.
Down here the winds weren’t as responsive to her, being stagnant things that crept around corners and slunk through cracks instead of the vast unstoppable forces that lived on the surface. Unaware of her reliance on their strength and speed, Callindra jumped to one side a tiny bit too slowly and the curving claws tore into her side. They cut through the boiled leather of her armor with ease and brought a spray of blood with them as they exited her flesh.
The impact of the blow spun Callindra in a stumbling circle, off balance and leaving her guard down. With snarls, the others leaped at her in unison. She managed to turn the stumbling turn into a spin and dropped to a crouch, whipping Brightfang through the thighs of one of her attackers. The monster fell back and another one screamed in rage as a spear drove into its chest, thrown from behind her.
Fighting desperately, she turned a claw strike aside with her sword and dropped flat to avoid another swipe. The warrior she had sent back to report ran into the fray, a short sword in one hand and a dagger in the other as he attacked silently from one side. The creatures had been so focused on Callindra that he managed to incapacitate one of them before two fell on him in a flurry of claws and teeth.
A bestial roar announced the arrival of Vilhylm wearing the mask that gave him immense strength. He cannoned into the side of one of the lizard creatures, crushing it against the wall with enough force to pulverize its bones. In a flurry of strikes, the other arms men who followed Vilhylm hacked the remaining creatures to pieces.
There were a few human forms laying among the reptilian dead. Callindra forced herself not to think of it; there was a butcher’s bill to pay to escape these cursed caves and she was just grateful not to be added to the tally. At least not yet.
She looked past the soldiers making sure of the dead and joined Vilhylm, looking into the hole the monsters had left in the wall. Beyond was a smoothly sloping tunnel that curved around and down on one side and up at a similar angle on the other. To Callindra’s surprise and pleasure, a wind from the outside twined around her ankles like a purring cat before leaping up to tease the wrist thick braid of hair that fell to her waist.
“What is it?” Vilhylm asked, giving her a quizzical look.
Realizing she was smiling, Callindra grinned even broader. “There’s a way out. Fresh air is blowing up this tunnel.” Her words echoed in the smooth walled passageway and realized it wasn’t natural cavern, it was worked stone.
Vilhylm seemed to have noticed it as well. “Get the others. We need to move carefully and quietly. There may be more of those things.”
Reluctant to leave the fresh breeze, Callindra turned back, dispatching the warriors back through the caverns to bring the main group of refugees from where they rested under the watchful eyes of Cronos and Tryst.