Blacksmith

by

Hornblower

Chapter 12 The lingering soldiers

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Miles from the battle of yigdra and elves were nothing could be heard and only a dim fog could be seen. Stands a traveling carriage with three men sitting in front. The men are excruciatingly bored simply staring at the artificial fog encompassing the forest. It's not as if they could engage each other in conversation either, too much words in this business is risky. That man you sit next to today could in all likelihood could be the man you stab tomorrow. All they really know of each other are their names, and even that’s up in the air.

The three waits patiently, there's Piek a tall, bald, dark skinned elf, wielding a maul with ease. Lem wielding strong staff and a stronger look in his eyes, as if it he could pick a fight with any one of them. The last of the trio stands out most of all. A relatively young man, gentle features, fair complexion, no one would think of him twice, let alone with a sword and shield. He introduced himself as Kimmly, but it can easily be assumed that no one gave their real name.

Rstrstl, Through the bushes at the end of the forest the three can hear someone making an approach. They gather their respective weapons ready to kill whoever might wonder in.

With a calm stride and a dispassionate face, Vothe enters the clearing carrying three bodies. On his right shoulder he carries a red-haired boy as well as dark haired thinner boy. His left hand, covered in his own blood, drags a large blonde-haired boy, several inches taller than Vothe.

"Well, if it isn't the silent wolf Vothe, this is the first time I've seen you bleed." Where the three didn't know each other at all, they were all familiar with whispers of the silent wolf. In certain circles, well known, as a man who would do anything for coin.

Several rumors had even spread about him ranging from that he was born of dragon and human, that he'd assassinated the old Hegemaran king, even so far as to say he himself was royalty questing for vengeance. The legitimacy of these rumors is widely accepted as preposterous, but they do create a reputation for the one called Vothe.

Piek had even worked with Vothe several times before. Even without his aesir weapon, he killed with a methodical precision. Calm covered in the blood of his enemies, it could only be compared with a hawk setting its eyes on prey uncaring for the prey itself.

Vothe walks in with a wordless professionalism, taking note of the three elves in front of him. Two brutes like Piek and Lem are to be expected, but he is surprised by the appearance of the young serf, Kimmly. Damn, Eviksen. Sent a spy to watch the spy. Vothe thinks dropping the three seemingly lifeless bodies on the floor, and pulls his sleeve to inspect his wound.

"Vothe, you dirty bastard!" A stammering scream comes from the bushes that Vothe had just exited.

"D'nuh Amain?" Kimmly says surprised by the commander covered in blood appearing out of the green. He wasn't so much shocked by the appearance of Amain as much as how Vothe was followed. Knowing the silent wolf's reputation, he shouldn't have been so easily tracked.

"Kimmly," Amain continued pointing his finger accusatorily at the three Elves sitting in front of a carriage. "Arrest this man for crimes against the king. I will not ha-,"

Vothe walks up to Amain still ordering Kimmly. With a dart of his hand, Vothe grabs Amain by the neck.

"What the hell are you d- AAHHH!" Amain's skin turns a dark black the very flesh disintegrating. From the look on his face, coupled with his scream, everyone knows the pain must be excruciating. Chunks of his flesh start falling off, withering before touching the ground. Amain falls to the floor coughing up a black pool of blood. In seconds, nothing is left but ash, which will quickly be swept by the wind.

Kimmly can feel a lump grow in his throat. The aesir weapon Fog Horn, so this is the power of the gods. Kimmly was briefly informed of Fog Horn the pipe could create an inert colorless odorless gas. While the user is in proximity of the gas, he can set it off, turning the inert gas into a deadly corrosive agent, reducing the target to dust. Vothe must have planned for Amain to follow him so he could wipe them all out. The entire volume of the corrosive gas can be activated from a single source, meaning all of the elves fighting the yigdra share their leaders fate. Kimmly would also be a corpse if Vothe didn't take heed of him at the delivery sight.

Vothe walks up to Piek, as if nothing of note had happened. Piek, refusing to make eye contact, hands Vothe a leather sack. Vothe walks away saying nothing more. By the distinct jingle of the bag, it's assumed that the bag is filled with coin. How much does it cost to buy so many lives?


Soon after, Erwin wakes to the ricketing of a hooded wagon. His head hurts, as if someone dropped him on a rock and was quick to drop him again. A distinct pain remained in his chest. From the look of it, the wound was a shallow stab directly under the collar bone. It’s size and location mean no organs are damaged and blood will properly clot. A good guess says the purpose of the stab was to sedate him with a poisoned dagger. 

His hands are cuffed in what Erwin recognizes as mana absorbent shackles. He doesn't know exactly how they function, basically when the wearer tries to use mana the shackles activate absorb it, making it near impossible to cast a spell or interact with magical objects.

Erwin takes note of his surroundings. Next to him he recognizes J.J. and Leonardo, similarly shackled. The two seem to be injured far more than him. Covered in bruises as well some shallow cuts, probably earned attempting an escape only to be find out they can’t cast spells.

On the other side of the carriage, two well-built men sit. One dark skinned wielding a maul. The other has a scarred face and was eyeing an analog watch.

"The yigdra sure have some neat stuff." He said while fiddling with the dials of the silver watch. It isn't a surprise that he's never seen a watch, common folk have no need for exact times, so only the wealthy have time measuring devices. "So, how are we splitting the loot."

Piek gazes towards the front of the cart making sure that Kimmly can't hear. "You take the trinket and a solima slate, I'll take the other two solima slates."

Lem looks at him and back at the watch. It's quite the gamble, a solima slate could get at least a dozen silver dollars, but the watch could be worth more depending on who it’s sold too. Lem could probably sell it to an artificer for a good price. "Well enough," Lem responds with a smile, "and course as far as the boy is concerned we didn’ find a penny."

"Yes, our man Vothe must of picked them clean before droppin’ them off," Piek responds. From recent evidence, the two had discerned that Kimmly couldn't be trusted. Where Piek and Lem are freelancers hired by a middleman, Kimmly's a bought dog, working directly for some lord. That would explain why he was given the task to spy on Vothe.

Erwin instinctively winces at the two giving them a cold star. Lem notices and directs his attention to Erwin causing him avert his gaze, hoping to not cause a scene. He knows better than to antagonize them.

"Well look who's awake, the sheep in wolfs clothing," Lem said grabbing Erwin by the hair, dragging his face to eye level. "You know, usually I would go into some speech about how if you try to escape it wouldn't turn out well. How I'd do to you what I did to ya friends, about how as long as you sit tight and mind your manners we shan't harm a hair on your head. But I think I won't really need to go into such a long-winded threat."

Lem places Erwin's solima slate at eye level. "Look at you, a yigdra, but only a blacksmith with the stats of a child. I'm half surprised that you don't buckle under the weight of your own coat. I'm glad I never read those damn stories about the all-powerful yigdra, who could match arms with aesir," Lem had a mocking smile on his face while Piek was fighting his laughter, the two look as if they had met Dracula and he turned out to be hemophobic.

"Back off! He might be weak, but he’s stronger than the two of you," Leo yells in his rage he had forgotten his position as prisoner. The formerly dejected face, now looks brave when protecting someone. Like any act of bravery, it is aptly rewarded, Lem punches Leo square in the jaw, his body falling to the floor. However, Leo simply looks back with eyes filled with fire. As clear as day, those burning eyes stated You might beat me down, but I will stand in front of the devil himself to protect those who in need.

Lem gives Leonardo a dastardly look as if he wants nothing more to pound that confident face. From experience, he knows if he starts he wouldn't be able to stop. The client wouldn't appreciate the destruction of the goods, and Lem wouldn’t appreciate the destruction of his payment.

That should have been enough to get the message across, Lem thinks seeing a dejected Erwin staring at his shackles.

Contrary to Lem's thoughts, Erwin has not given up hope, far from it. He observes his shackles thinking, how do I get out of these shackles? If he could transmute, the lock could be forced open or a key could be created. With enough mana, he could overpower the absorbance of the shackle allowing him to cast a spell. Hell, with enough brute strength he could simply break the shackles. Unfortunately, Erwin lacks the ability to transmute, the mana to overpower, and the strength to break free.

So, what do I have, Erwin thinks trying to solve the problem from a different angle. He lacks weapons, probably dropped after being kidnapped, but he does have some of his smithing gear. A small amount of cryonite, a stick of graphite, the manticore claw, the adamantium plates, and some copper pennies.

Looking to his side he also takes note of J.J. and Leo sitting next to him. J.J. had been completely silent for the last few minutes. It's unlike him, most would expect him to be in a fit of anger. Next to him, Leonardo has returned to his seat on the wagon. Hopefully those two are ready for a fight. I can't fight my way out of this alone.

Erwin redirects his attention to the Shackles once more. The claw and copper coins seemed completely useless in this situation. The adamantium could be used to make a key, it's a mana conductive material so transmuting it, even in solid form, should be easy. Still nothing can be transmuted with these damn shackles.

The shackles themselves are shoddily, by god, Erwin can eyeball the impurities in the metal. It's easily assumed that the inside of the shackles follows the same quality of artificery. If the insides can be warped, even a little, I might be able to overcharge the shackles. That would allow me to cast a spell.

Now the hardest part. How can Erwin break warp the shackles? The simplest idea would be to use the cryonite to freeze the metal. As the metal cools any water trapped in its poorly made openings would expand causing the metals inside to bend, lessening the mana absorbing effect. If I could just use the cryonite. The damaged shackles could be overcharged.

Erwin turns his attention to his guards. They don't seem to be the most attentive jailers. Lem is still fiddling with the watch, in amazement of its many knobs and dials. Piek on the other hand is teetering on the edge of slumber.

With some covert movements, Erwin moves the cryonite from his pocket to his mouth. The cold mineral is pressed beneath his teeth, making sure not to touch his flesh. I just need to concentrate my mana to my teeth. Erwin's plan is dependent on the fluidic property of mana. Mana can be pooled at particular places of the body. Allowing it to seep through his pours, he can slowly excite the cryonite in his mouth without exiting having it drained by the shackles. It should be noted that when most people use mana to cast a spell their entire body or at best their hand releases mana, rarely spells require mana to be focused on a limb, it's beyond unusual for mana to be focused on teeth.

Erwin needs all his focus if he's to slowly sieve mana into the cryonite. If his passive captures saw him everything would fall apart, and he couldn't keep his eyes on them while working. This is where a distraction would come in use. Erwin gently brushes elbows with J.J. sitting next to him. J.J. responds with a furious look in his eyes causing Erwin to recoil in fear for a second.

However, Erwin notices runes matching a fire spell engraved on J.J.'s shackle, his nails withered thin give away how. I guess we're all planning to escape, knowing that he hadn't given up calms Erwin, it won't be possible to escape if even one of us lose their will.

Erwin bares his canines revealing the cryonite in his teeth. J.J. gives a frustrated look back at Erwin, but his sigh indicates the he's willing to cooperate. J.J. looks at Leonardo maybe a little too happy to do what he's about to do.

"Dammit! you son of a bitch, you're the reason were in this fucking mess!" J.J. leaps onto Leo slamming his cuffs on Leo's annoyingly righteous face. "You fuck. You had to convince us to fight. I had a future, I was gonna go ivy league, CEO of a fortune 500, everything was gonna be perfect. But know I'm gonna die because your fucking hero complex." J.J. persists, his furious expression as real as the punches he's throwing. It's not as if he has to hold back Leo's defenses will keep him from getting any permanent injuries.

Lem and Piek watch for a moment at the yigdra fighting like children. Until finally pulling the two off each other. With a firm blow to the gut for both J.J. and Leonardo are planted in their seats, now on either side of Erwin.

"If you try that again I'll cut of your arms." Piek yells at J.J. holding a knife to his throat. "Retched yigdra are becoming more hassle then your worth." Piek returns to his seat seemingly, unfazed by the J.J.'s outburst, he quickly falls back to a somnolent state.

J.J. stares daggers at Erwin, demanding results with his eyes. Erwin with a poised smile flashes a pair of keys hidden under the palm of his hand. Now all that's left is an opportunity to pass it to them.

This might be a little cliché, but it's worth a try. "Can we stop? I need to use the bathroom." Erwin says trying to put on the most innocent face he can muster. Piek, still half asleep, barely gives his words a thought.

Lem gives it a moment’s thought, as if to discern whether he wanted to sit in a carriage filled with urine for the next day. Lem turns to the front of the cabin. "Aye, Kimmly stop the cart the yigdra needs to take a piss." He yells to the driver. Thank god. Erwin thinks. If he'd read a little more of those stories he might have caught on to our plan.

The carriage comes to halt. "All right let’s get going, all of you out. we're not stopping again so empty yer piss barrels now. And Piek wake up would you, if ya spend so much time asleep I'm taking your cut." Lem says causing Piek to grudgingly wake up.

J.J. is the first to get up seemingly in a rush to get out the door, on his way Erwin quickly gets up using the opportunity to pass both keys to J.J. The two walk out of the carriage without raising any kind of fuss. Behind them Leonardo silently trudges out, his face showing none of the bravery it once had.

Stepping out of the wooden carriage, Erwin notices the scenery had changed. Where the trees were once an array of Oaks and Elms, they are now cold weather ever greens and spruces. How long was I out? Erwin thinks. They couldn't have gone too far north, maybe a higher elevation. They could be on a mountain meaning they're probably deeper in Dheginsea.

The landscape confirms Erwin's theory. The carriage is parked along a cliffside. Looking at the horizon, they must be several miles above sea level. Erwin takes note not get too close to the precipice when they escape, falling off would surely spell death.

"All right get at it," Lem says pushing the hesitant Leo out of the carriage. Leo stumbles forward causing both him and J.J. to fall in the dirt. Piek’s face is bubbling with laughter at the sight of them in the dirt.

A sadistic smile contorting his face. "Well you two just can't keep your hands off each other, now can you," He giggles. behind him, Lem also spatters a chuckle.

J.J. pushes Leo off with an angry grunt. Getting up he makes a face as if he's about to retort but decides to keep his mouth shut.

Erwin notices Leo fiddling with something in his hands. His expression has also changed, his former confidence showing once more. Looks like Leo got his key. Now when should we release the cuffs? Erwin thinks. The best time would be...

BROOM. In front of him, J.J. surges fire out of the palm of his hand using the fire to burn Lem. I guess we're doing this now, Erwin thinks.

With a surprise attack, Leo strikes Piek in the chest. But with only his bare fist Piek barely staggers, instead swinging his down on Leo's head. Leo rolls away by the skin of heels. He quickly tries attacking again knowing that elves have stronger magical abilities, if Leo gives him time to chant even his defense won't hold.

J.J. doesn't let up his flame surge, engulfing Lem in flurry of fire. All his pent-up rage manifesting as constant blaze of red and orange.

"You really are an angry one." A calm voice comes from the flame. One devoid of pain as if it had just sit down in a look warm bath. "If you don't learn to manage such anger, your flames won't burn even a fly." The flame surrounding Lem instantly doubles in size. Even J.J., a pyromancer, recoils from the heat given off. The inferno condenses followed by a rapid expansion. Creating an explosion sending J.J. flying and even knocking Leonardo to the ground.

Erwin standing several feet away from the explosion can still feel the shock move through his bones. If I was any closer I would be puddle right now. Erwin see's Leonardo quickly getting up being met by both Piek and Kimmly ready to fight. J.J. writhes on the floor clutching damaged ears. Dammit without proper weaponry we can't hurt them. I need to make a weapon.

Erwin looks around for something to transmute, but years of erosion had turned the once stony path into a pile of loose dirt. Dammit, what can I use to make a weapon. He continues his search, even a bundle of stones would be of more use than nothing at all. Alas nothing can be found, and weapons can't be made from thin air, could they?

Erwin feels something strange in his hands, like gravel is pooling in his pores. He looks at his hands covered in a black rock. They feel as if they are transmuting, but what are they transmuting? To Erwin, at this moment, it doesn't matter, he focuses on the sensation in his hands. Gather the stones in my hands. Shape it into a blade. In several seconds, Erwin's hands are clammy covered in his sweat, but a crude sword is in his hands. The sword is a deep black, the edge is dull, spotted with flaws, but a weapon is a weapon.

"Leo, take this!" Erwin says throwing the newly crafted sword. The sword lands next to Leonardo the tip imbedded in the ground. Leo grabs the short sword swinging it with a speed easily matching his enemies. Both Piek and Kimmly charge Leo attempting to attack him from both sides, but with one large swing he’s able to keep them at bay. The two outmatch Leonardo in experience, three or four stats might even be higher than his, but Leo's high offence and defense give him the edge right now. As long as he can prevent them from using magic then he has the upper hand.

Erwin creates a second sword. It probably wouldn't do much good in J.J.’s hands, but a sword is better than fighting bare handed. Once more Erwin throws his stone sword.

"Use this!" he screams as the sword lands. J.J. grabs the sword and charges into the flame engulfing Lem, under the assumption that if his magic resistance is high enough to walk in flames unscathed then his defense must be weak. Surely, he isn't dealing with some unstoppable monster with stats so unimaginably high that any action would be moot.

J.J. lunges at Lem striking the wooden staff in his possession. If it's a magic staff it could be the source of Lem's magic, the reason he didn't have to cast a spell. J.J. strikes it with the sword putting the entirety of his weight behind the strike.

The staff doesn't crack. If it was simple wood it would have easily cracked in two, it had to be a magic weapon. J.J. frantically swings his sword the stones withering away with every strike. But the same can be said about the staff he's attacking, with every swing of the sword slivers of wood fling up in the air, until.

Crack. Simultaneously, both the black stone sword and the wooden staff break. The flames surrounding the two immediately dissipate. Lem's expression goes pale with worry, knowing that in a fist fight he doesn't have a leg to stand on. He needs a spell quickly.

"I dema-” Before Lem can stammer a line, J.J. Drives his burned fists into his face. He doesn't give Lem any time to breath, mounting him, grabbing his collar with one hand, and thrashing his face with the other.

Nearby, Leonardo quickly realized how brittle his sword is, and has gone on the defensive. He carefully attempts to improve the life of the blade striking with different parts. Slowly panting he goes over his options tip... used. Middle... used. Hilt... used. Pommel...used. He's quickly running out of options, only two maybe three strikes until the sword shatters.

Kimmly picks up on Leonardo's hesitation. "Keep his attention," He says to Piek. "I'll cast,"

Piek rushes Leonardo as Kimmly retreats. Piek puts all his weight in a horizontal slash too wide to be sidestepped. Leo dodge backward afraid to use his sword to block. I need to stop the other one. If he casts we'll be overrun with spells.

Leo charges Piek only to be rebuked by another swing of his maul. Again, he thinks refusing to give up. He charges once more. "You never learn," Piek smirks under his breath. He prepares to swing his maul again, but instead of seeing a boy charging at him, Leonardo shifts his stance and throws the sword like a javelin straight at Piek’s face.

However, Piek's reflexes aren't as dull as to let a thrown sword get the better of him. He tilts his maul and does an upward strike with the intent of sending it flying. but instead of flying or breaking in two, the sword shatters into numerous tiny specks. The even distribution of stress was fortuitous for Leonardo. The shards of stone fly into Piek’s eyes temporarily blinding him, Leonardo takes this opportunity in full and makes a b-line past Piek.

Leo passes by Piek certain that he’ll be preoccupied, but if anything, his guard is even higher. Even while rubbing specks of stones out of his eyes, listening for his enemy’s movements is paramount to success. Before Leo can get past Piek’s reach, Piek pivots on one leg bringing down his other leg. Leo feels the massive force of Piek bringing down his heavy knee, halting him to a dead stop. Fuck, he thinks, he's gonna finish his chant.

Out of the very edge of his vision, Leonardo see's someone bolt past Piek and him. It was Erwin running with a short sword in hand. He runs toward the chanting Kimmly and drives the sword short in his sword shoulder.

"GUH!" Kimmly grunts as if he'd just been given a minor bruise. He drops his sword, but still has a shield strapped to his arm. With a swing of his arm, Kimmly bashes the face of his shield into Erwin, sending him back three feet landing on his back.

Undeterred, Erwin climbs to his feet tightening the grip of his short sword. He dashes forward quickly closing the distance between him and Kimmly, but still slower than Kimmly.

Kimmly readies his shield arm. Aiming straight for the head, Kimmly brings down his shield, but legs slip throwing him off balance. The firm landing, he was standing on become loose as if standing on gravel. Erwin wastes no time aiming for Kimmly's chest. But Erwin has never killed and at the last moment his aim diverts. Lodging the blade in the flesh under his collar bone.

Kimmly smiles. A sickening and toothy smile that doesn't match his otherwise gentle face. His iron shield pulses red scars shining as if it might explode any second now. Erwin recognizes it as the ability Gaebulg.

"Fuck!" he says surprised by the violent red light. If Gaebulg activated in this situation Erwin would be nothing but a collection of limbs.

"Agh!" Kimmly screams as Erwin twists the sword in Kimmly's chest with one hand and grabs the shield with other. Pulling the shield out of the howling Kimmly's hands, Erwin throws it into the cliff face. But it's too late, the red scarring on the shield doesn't dissipate.

"It's gonna blow!" Erwin yells scrabbling to the ground with a tense thud. He begins to transmute encasing the shield in a thick mess of dirt and rock. His hope that was that encasing it would reduce the heat impact and any concussive force, which is correct, but not entirely thought out.

BOOM! The explosion causes a flurry of debris to fly through the sky. The stone surrounding the shield acts like a fragmentation grenade hitting Leonardo in the chest and striking Piek in the head.

Piek falls to the floor, the bloody gash in his skull, a mixture of blood, bone, and brain make his condition clear. Piek is undoubtedly dead.

But nobody had time to morn. The once stable cliff face shows signs of instability, with large factures crawling through the ground. Everyone stops what they’re doing for a moment, J.J. snaps out of his anger completely disregarding the unmoving man under him, Leonardo eyes safe ground only a couple of steps away. Like walking on ice showing cracks, everyone knows they only have moments until their weight pushed them to death.

Leonardo and J.J. without heed of their surroundings bolt to the edge of the fractures, but running with all their weight proves to be too much for the cliff. The ground shaking apart, Kimmly and Erwin are in full sprint to the edge, much farther from safety than J.J. and a Leo.

Kimmly is faster than Erwin by a leg, but Erwin is right behind him running with all his strength. The cliff still tipping over, at a thirty degree, moments from the point of no return. Still time to make it, Erwin thinks trying to keep pace. Moments away from the edge Erwin can feel the ground he's walking on begin to crumble until he couldn't feel anything under him. In an instant, the world goes dark and silent.

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