CHAOS OF VOID (II)
"Start casting the first batch!!" a deep bellow roared out inside a terribly hot and dry quarter stacked with burning furnaces, tall anvils being hammered at, and a slew of scantily-clad men and women working tirelessly with bands wrapped around their foreheads.
A group of young men picked up a row of buckets filled with molten metal and dragged them over to a molding station, yelling from the top of their lungs as they lifted the buckets and poured the content out into the set array of molds.
“We’re two crucibles short!” a high-pitch, woman’s voice followed shortly after.
“Fuckin’ kids, why’s there still slag on my station?!!”
“S-sorry Sir! I’ll clean it up right away!”
“I need those crucibles now, dammit!!” the woman’s voice cried out louder this time as Sarah heaved up from her crouching position, her copper-tanned figure towering over the nearby men. “Or do you fuckers want to cast hardened crap?!”
“I’ve seen a few in the storage; I’ll bring them over.” a young man standing by her side took of rather loose gloves and ran off.
“We’ve a new batch arriving for smelting,” another older voice bellowed out. “Prepare the stations!”
“We’re out of space!! We still have two batches left to smelt!”
"We don't need quenchers just yet," Eggor joined from the far front, breathing heavily. "Convert three into temporary smelting stations. Get more kids to clean up slag upfront. Also, I need a few lads and gals skilled in drawing upfront. Anyone up for a task?"
“I’m up for it!”
“Me too, Master Eggor!”
“Count me in!”
“Alright, first come first serve,” Eggor chuckled lightly as three young boys yet to reach fifteen quickly raced in front of him. “If you disappoint me, I’ll break your spines though. You up for it?!”
“Up for it, Sir!!”
“Ha ha ha, good, good. Come on, follow me in.”
“How’s Cae Master Eggor?” one of the boys asked. “We haven’t seen him around in a few days.”
“Ah, his mother’s been teaching him... strange stuff...” Eggor grumbled, rubbing his temple. “God help that kid with that woman... haii...”
Eggor glanced around a few times, nodding in content. Though they were still terribly short-staffed, it was worlds better than it was a few months ago. More and more of the young Apprentices were developing properly, and quite a few of them had already settled on their specializations.
Even if it was still roughly forty souls doing the job of about two hundred, they were making the ends meet... if those ends were pulled back considerably. He was currently working on a set of molds for general armor that would be worn by most people. However, he was rather uncomfortable doing it as he’d only ever crafted items tailored to individuals. Which is also why he was simultaneously working on Ally’s weapon, something Ella promised Alex many moons ago that he was yet to complete.
"What's this shit?" a familiar voice caused him to stop walking as his lips, hidden underneath the bushy beard, curled up into a warm smile. "You doing casts? Damn, old man. How far did I push you?"
Lino stood by an elevated portion of the wall that had several molds carved into it at an angle. He wore his usual, tattered attire, his beard and hair having already grown back. The young boys next to Eggor frowned, causing the old man to stifle his laughter as he approached Lino, stopping next to him.
“Into depression, lad. I’ve been slavin’ away here while you were out and about. I’m terribly hurt.”
“... why are you doing fucking casts in the first place?” Lino chuckled bitterly. “I thought you’d be responsible for armoring our high-end units.”
“You couldn’t trust anyone else to do it right, huh?” seemingly striking where it hurt, Lino grinned. “And people call me a narcissist...”
“That’s because you are one.” Eggor said.
“Takes one to know the other.” Lino shrugged. “But, seriously, cease this tomfoolery immediately!” he exclaimed flamboyantly. “Thine arms and hands shall cast steel into the molds of heaven, and make men borne immortal--”
“Oh, shut the living fuck up,” Eggor rolled his eyes, slapping Lino over the back of his head. “Fine, fine, I’ll outsource it. Hey, you three. See those long, thick rods over on the other side? Get to drawing.”
“---M-master Eggor... they...” one of the boys meekly mumbled.
“What?” Eggor asked, his gaze turning sharp.
“N-nothing!” the boys quickly exclaimed. Just as the three were about to race over, Lino beat them to it, picking up one of the rods.
“I see... so, your favorite past-time is still torturing kids, huh?” Lino grinned, an array of distant memories flashing through his mind. “Anyway, wanna spice it up?”
“Spice it up?” Eggor mused, stroking his beard.
“Whichever one of the boys manages to draw their rod out first--khm, god, that sounds so wrong. Anyway, whoever does their job first, gets one request from you -- and you have to craft whatever their batshit insane minds make up.”
“Where do you fit into that?” Eggor asked, seemingly confused.
“I’ll be responsible for the crazy dreams of the other two.”
“Oooh, interesting.” Eggor grinned for a moment. “Deal. But, how about we bet on who will do it first?”
“Alright. Since I’m going all out,” Lino took out a small piece of glistening rock that caused Eggor to freeze for a moment. “I’ll bet this. You gotta match it old man.”
“W-where in the ever-loving-shit did you get that?!” Eggor raced over, picking the small piece and examining it deeply.
“Trade secrets. So? What will you put up against it?”
"[Blood-stained Steel]," Eggor said almost immediately. "Refined a hundred times, tempered through lightning, Level 25,000."
“... fucking fuck!! You had it all along and you kept your fat, old mouth shut?! Fuck you man!!”
“Fuck you right back!! As if I’d give something so precious to a fuckin’ stunk like you!”
“Tsk. I swear, when I win, I’ll take the steel and make a fuckin’ cup to drink the tea out of for me.”
“... I will disown you if you do.” Eggor’s voice turned cold and frigid, causing Lino to shudder.
“I-I’m kidding, old man... you... you know I’m kidding...”
“Anyway, boys,” Eggor spun around and faced the now-terrified three boys who unwittingly became a part of something much, much bigger than themselves. “Go away at it. Don’t think too much and work hard, alright? If I happen to lose, so be it. I’ll cave this idiot’s skull in, but you’ll be safe, alright?”
“What about the lad neither one of us bets on?” Lino asked from the side. “Won’t he feel like a mass-ass looser?”
“I’ll fill in, then,” a calm voice joined the three as Primul walked in, wearing a thin smile on his face. “Unfortunately, though, I don’t have much in the ways of materials to give away, but I do have knowledge. I’ll bet the <Celestial Refining Array>. From what I’ve learned, it is lost to the dunes of time, no?”
“... I’ll take the scrawny, blue-eyed lad.” Lino pointed at the leftmost boy who immediately jumped and began shaking.
“I’ll take Jin.”
“Who the fuck’s Jin?” Lino asked.
"I--I'm Jin..." the boy in the middle raised his hand meekly; he was barely over a meter and a half tall, bald and somewhat skinny.
“Alright, that leaves you with the girly one Primul. You alright with that?” Eggor asked.
“Sure. He looks like a winner.” Primul said, grinning strangely as he crouched and reached the long-haired boy’s eye level. “You are a winner... aren’t you, boy?”
“Alright, get to work,” Eggor slapped the three boy’s backs and pushed them over to the thick rods as Lino and Primul joined him on the other end, observing the shaking and quivering boys with amusing smiles. “Maybe they are a bit too young to be fucked with, eh?”
“You fucked with me way harder when I was their age,” Lino shrugged. “And I could barely do a push up without having all the muscles in my body ache.”
“How about we bet on which one will be the least affected---”
“Dude, you have a fucking problem.” Lino jumped in, interrupted Primul who had a strange glitter to his black eyes. “I’ve realized this a long ago, but I thought, hey, whatever, it’s a quirk. It’s not doing any harm. It’s started doing harm.”
“... yeah, I should probably stop,” Primul mumbled. “I already owe half the fortress something...”
“... anyway, where were you?” Eggor asked Lino as the trio settled with a bottle of ale each.
“Meeting friends, learning stuff, getting traumatized. You know, usual weekends.”
“Who’d you meet?”
“The leader of the Cult.” Lino replied. “Chill fella. Fairly greedy and moralistic. I don’t like him very much.”
“Why? He reminds you too much of yourself?” Eggor jabbed with a chuckle.
“I’ve settled on temporary cooperation,” Lino continued, ignoring it. “Though I imagine our friendship won’t last for too long.”
“Why? Different goals?” Primul asked.
"Hey, this dude is fairly old," Lino glanced at him and asked. "Maybe you know him. Dangwe spur any bells?"
“... Dangwe?” Primul thought for a moment before shaking his head.
“His wife’s name is Layla, or at least so he claims. Maybe you know her? Apparently, they are a different species of humans than our own.”
“You know him?”
“Of course I know him,” Primul suddenly sighed, his gaze growing pained. “Perhaps too well.”
“Well, for starters, I’ve beheaded his wife during my last rampage,” Primul replied. “Before nearly razing his entire Sect to the ground.”
“... your past is really depressing...” Eggor sighed.
“Wait--was his wife Layla?” Lino asked.
“I don’t know,” Primul shrugged. “It’s not like I was taking names. The only reason I even know him is ‘cause he was there during the battle where I completely lost it. He was one of the few survivors.”
“... oh. It’s probably best I don’t mention you’re with me now. Might, you know, put a dent in the whole ‘partnership’ thing.”
“... taking you in was a big mistake, wasn’t it?” Lino mumbled.
“The biggest you’ll ever make.”