Chapter 242 Floating Wisdom
Terok led her down a stairwell into the stone, many side halls leading to living quarters or rooms with other purposes. Some of the beings looked at her when she passed but nobody seemed to care extensively. A refreshing reception compared to most humans that immediately started whispering after her. The dwarf suddenly stopped and motioned down a hallway. The red glow of fire came from within but nothing could be heard.
“Hey, master!” Terok shouted down the hall, “This lassie here has saved a friend, thought you could offer her your services in return.” They waited but no response came, Ilea looking at the dwarf who seemed a little unsure by now.
“Why can’t we just go?”
He gestured at the ground and walls, “There are runes in place to prevent entry, curses and dark magic. He normally only works with those that can cross it unharmed.”
Ilea nodded and started walking, “Why didn’t you say that. Well I’ll see you then Terok, thanks for showing me the way.” He watched in disbelief when she simply started walking. A light feeling of nausea started spreading in her belly but it was nothing major. Neither was the health drain that started a couple meters further in. Her healing easily canceled it out. With time it would grow less effective anyway, thanks to her second stage resistance to health drain magic.
She heard Terok laugh and looked back, the dwarf shaking his head. “Well good luck then. You can use the exit we came from, if you can survive this you can definitely activate the rune.”
Ilea gave him a thumbs up as she moved further into the smithy. A couple more steps and her hearing was cut off, the sound of a hammer hitting metal resounded a couple meters further in. The room opened up, stairs leading down into the big space where a being made of dark mist hovered near an anvil. It had two arms that looked solid, the rest was more ethereal. Like the winter spirits she had faced before.
[Smith – lvl 212]
Not even Balduur has that kind of level. She thought and decided to wait until he was done with whatever he was working on. There was a plethora of machines in the room, tools and metal structures she had never seen nor any idea what purpose they served. Sitting down on a workbench a little to the side, she continued healing herself, neither curse nor health drain lessening when she had entered. The thing he, she or it was working on looked awfully small in her sphere, shaped like just the handle of a weapon. Isn’t the blade done and then the handle added?
Summoning her notebook, she wrote down the name of the poison and the monster that occupied the Root Vault. Another thing she could hunt and kill, likely in similar or higher levels as the rose knights. Overwhelming choice…, It wasn’t really. Here she would meet other hunters coming from Hallowfort, at least she assumed as much. Saving lives wasn’t the worst and she could make friends like that easily. Ilea had no idea how long it would have taken to find this smith here, likely choosing one of the lesser talented had she not met Terok. Still, she was lucky this time. It could’ve also been her finding three dead or dying adventurers, unable to save them.
And this was her adventure, not another tragedy. Hers alone with nightmares spewed out of hell’s mouth, there for her to fight and kill, dancing on the edge of death. Her thinking was interrupted when a whisper resounded in the whole room, “A new traveler, seeking the work of Goliath.” The voice echoed, the smith turning around, two golden eyes looking out of the dark mist as it held up the finished product.
“A door handle? I mean maybe I could replace some of mine… I’m Ilea by the way,” She said as he put it away.
“Work for one of my dear friends. Payment for a joke well told.” He explained and hovered a little closer, “You, no you are here for that armor are you not? Or have you lost your weapons too?” He asked, the whisper coming from several directions at once, confusing Ilea quite a bit.
“Just the armor, I don’t fight with steel.” She said and stood up, walking around the room to discern how he did the thing with his voice.
The smith hovered after her, “Niameer steel. Rare to see it these days. The elven lands of old used to favor it did they not? Before the light was no more.”
Ilea cocked her head to the side and turned around, “Why do I hear you like a surround sound system?”
A weird noise came from the smith, its eyes squinting a little and bobbing up and down, a laugh perhaps, “It is what I am, the magics of dark not one favorable for those of the living flesh. You must have felt it when you entered? The curse, my unending hunger for life and its source.”
“You meant that’s you? You didn’t put up runes to make people not come here?”
“It can get lonely, sadly most cannot stomach being close to me. Your kind… what are you then? An elf? A dwarf? No… you would not like the mana here and you are too tall for a dwarf. A dark one then but one of life?” He asked inquisitively.
Its eyes moved up a little before it spoke, “Human, what a rare visitor then. Those of weak blood find it hard to travel here, to even stand where you do is an achievement not gained without strife. I salute you.” He said and bowed a little, “The dark ones often find conversation tiring yet it leaves my forge silent, abandoned. Were it not for my work one might question why I even rose to consciousness.”
Lots of interesting things this guy says. The smith was either old and wise, a being of great power or perhaps a crazy loner spinning lies to confuse her. The elves don’t like the mana here? Dark ones? “It’s nice to meet you then, I salute your dedication to the forge. You are the first smith of such a level I have met.”
The weird sound again, “Amusing. A human so far north, a long time it has been. Truly. For this alone I shall grant your request.”
Nice, She thought and summoned the mold she had taken from Balduur. “That’s the mold, it fits me perfectly. The monsters here are a little much for Niameer steel.”
The smith hovered around the mold, lifting its eyes from time to time, “A suitable mold. It is good to know the art is not lost entirely. Niameer however is not meant to be abused so roughly. It is meant to hide sound and light. A shadow’s metal. Are you a shadow?”
Ilea thought about it and shook her head, “I fight directly, you can see that by how it looks.” Switching to a set of leather armor, she placed the pieces of her ashen hunter set on a free workbench. Not meant to be abused so roughly? And it was never damaged by any of the attacks coming from other people or their weapons? She felt a little embarrassed in front of this old being and showed it apparently.
“Do not feel offended human. It is a good metal, even moreso rare. A precious ore and it can certainly hold up to others but with time its shape will dent, its glimmer fade.” The smith explained as he lifted some of the pieces up, looking them over carefully.
Ilea summoned one of the rose knight sets, using her ash to clean off one of the tables before she dumped it there. “What about these then? The ones who fought me used that.” Adding a sword to it, just in case it was a different metal, the smith turned towards her. Grabbing the chest plate, it contemplated, turning it over and over again.
“I am uncertain. What do you intend to do with it?” It asked finally.
“Depends on how good it is. Got plenty more so do with this one what you like.” Ilea said with a grin.
Its eyes lifted and almost looked happy, “Good, I cannot determine its properties without working it. Hold on.” It said and took the breast plate, putting it on the anvil and starting to hammer. Harder with each hit before it chucked it into the biggest forge, some of the runes lighting up before the heat in the room went up by at least fifty degrees.
No wonder no humans come in here. Ilea thought, noticing the flare but her heat resistance and general condition completely ignoring the difference. It didn’t stop getting hotter, soon the straps of her leather armor started to catch on fire, the room not cooling down for a whole twenty minutes. Ilea covered herself in ash and stored her leather armor, switching back to it when it cooled down. She looked at the goop of golden liquid that remained of the chest plate.
“Stonehammer steel… it was incredibly old, brittle but as expected it held up, for a long time. For rust to form on such a sturdy material. A dungeon perhaps? I would be interested in more of this metal if you would.” The smith said in his ethereal whisper.
“Of course, half for you half for me alright? Make me as many full sets of armor with the mold as you can, how does that sound?” She grinned and watched the eyes light up when she dumped all the armors and weapons she had gotten from her escapades so far. Nine sets and an assortment of weapons equaling probably another set.
“Marvelous. To think such quantities have found themselves into my forge. You see it is a metal found only deep underground. Further than most are willing to dig.
Ilea smiled and clapped her hands, “Cool. Can you make it black?”
The smith immediately started working, talking about coating the set with anotherlesser metal that wouldn’t weaken the structure but change its silver color to a darker and matteblack, not quite as dark as the previous steelbut Ilea didn’t mind. As long as she wasn’t a shining beacon of light walking around she’d be fine. A lot of the work involved waiting for the forge to melt the metal, leaving ample time for conversation.
“You think this will be sturdier than the Niameer armor?” Ilea asked, looking over her old battered set.
The smith turned towards her, putting another piece into the forge with his bare stone hand, “Yes. Considerably. It will wear with time, especially if weapons of the same quality will impact it but less quickly than the Niameer. A wise choice to hold on to it.” It explained.
She nodded and sat back again, meditating to recover the mana she was constantly using to keep her healing up, “You spoke of being a dark one… what does that mean?”
Goliath looked at her and spoke, “Humans…your world so small yet your pride reaching for the moons.” He said but she didn’t feel insulted, it was more a statement, one of wonder and not one of dismissing the human race, “The dark ones are those not born from consciousness, not of the womb of a mother but of mana itself. Gifted sight and understanding by time, long past. By the nurturing touch of life and death itself.”
It speaks in riddles, Ilea smiled. She was taking a liking to this smith. “Were you once monsters? Roaming the wild on instinct alone?”
“Precisely. Though it is a theory I believe it to be true. I have felt it.. have… memories from before.” It said, “Powerful one must be to attain choice. We gather in places dense in the energy of the world. Magic itself.”
Ilea slid a little further back on the bench and rested her back on the wall, “Does that mean I’ll have to check every monster I fight to see if they’re not actually a nice old woman looking for her lost child somewhere… or a professor late for his class…,”
“It is not so simple. Only beings attuned with mana may become what generations have decided to call a dark one. You shall learn, with time, the differences between wild beast and scholar. A riddle of morality you shall decipher on your own, young one.”
“How old exactly are you?” She asked, genuinely interested.
It looked at her, its eyes sparkling with golden light, “I do not know the answer you seek.” The whisper replied.
Ilea nodded as he floated over to the forge, taking the container now filled to the brim with fluid metal. Carefully moving it over, she could feel the heat on her again but it quickly vanished when Goliath poured the metal into the mold. Waiting for a couple minute without moving, it placed several big tools looking like metal versions of vacuum cleaners around the mold. “Three minutes.” It spoke and activated the devices, an icy cold enveloping the mold and all within, cooling it down in such a drastic manner that the whole room filled with mist.
Separating the pieces of the mold again, it carefully took out the still steaming pieces before dumping them in a container containing fluid, “Done, let it cool off completely before you touch the metal. With half of what you have given me I will create four more complete sets of armor if that is what you request. The coating I will do as the last step.”
Ilea nodded and smiled, “That’s perfect. How much gold will it cost by the way?”
“Gold? No you misunderstand human. Gold has little use for me. Bring me worthwhile work and materials. That is sufficient as a trade.”
Ilea turned her head sideways but shrugged and stood up, “Well if you say so. You could probably buy interesting metals with gold as well though, just saying.”
“A human desperate to separate with her wealth. Truly, as rare as one so far in the north. Well it is no wonder, us hiding deep underground.” It said and produced another weird guttural sound. “Gold I have found is a fickle mistress, one not as convincing as true skill. I may miss working on the most prized ore simply because the owner was incapable of paying for my services.” It explained. Ilea still thought it would be beneficial but then again who was she to question the business model of a thousand year old floating smith spirit.
“Fair enough. Mind if I stay here while you work?”
It simply continued putting armor pieces into the furnace, the heat rising again, “Not at all. It is rare enough to have a guest. If my cursed presence is not upsetting your stomach.”
Ilea chuckled, “I’ve met some people with better curses than yours.”
“Better… that is an amusing perspective.”
“You mentioned elves not liking this area before, why do you think that?” Ilea asked, remembering their earlier conversation.
The smith turned towards her and grabbed one of the swords she had placed on the workbench, “Few I have met. They are secretive and according to the rare travelers seeking my work, their race resides in a big forest to the south. That way it has been for thousands of years legend has it. It is said that places brimming with energy such as this, such as the north after it has… changed, such are not places the elven race seeks to reside in. Though I did not pry, merely am I retelling rumors of old.”
“What change are you talking about? And why do you believe they came north then, if they disliked it so much?” Ilea asked, sitting up.
Goliath looked at her for a while before answering, “Long ago a change befell this area of the world. This place… it became, so terribly more pleasant. I do not know why, yet the energies of the world, condensing and twisting as if bringing out the color and vibrancy of life and death itself. Fewer travelers have visited since then. You are the first human in a long time. The town they have built above my forge has been a blessing, truly. As to why an elf would visit this place I lack the answers you seek, why perhaps you might ask, would a human come this far?”
Ilea summoned her notebook and wrote some of the info down. It seemed interesting, maybe whatever had happened was the reason Tremor was now forgotten and taken over by mindless undead. Opposed to being a city bustling with… wine merchants.
“Oh… human might I ask of you a favor?”
“What is it?” Ilea asked and jumped up, cracking her neck.
It walked over to the devices that looked like vacuum cleaners to her and checked something on them, “The water is being used up, the air too dry and the force too hot. It is rare I need to cool with ice, yet your metal requires it. Would you be so kind and get me some in the lake below?”
She looked at the massive container, twice as big as herself and easily as broad as she was tall, “You mean the lake below?”
“Might this undertaking be impossible for you? Perhaps I might be able to contact my helper but I believe she is on guard duty for another week.”
Week long guard duty, sound horrible. The fellow near the bridge? Ilea asked herself and shook her head, “No need, I will get you some water. Any other way out than the door? That thing won’t fit through that corridor and I doubt my storage item allows such a massive thing inside.” It was close, worth a try now that she had ninety units of storage free again.