Alyssa wasn’t sure what she had expected to find when she thought of a medieval blacksmith. A fire of some sort. Anvils, probably. Obviously there would need to be someone at one of the anvils, hammering away at a piece of metal.
She was right about all three things. She just didn’t expect the scale.
The smithy was a massive stone structure set next to the river. On one side, a waterwheel turned with the flowing current. Black smoke billowed from a round turret the size of a hot tub attached to the other side. Boxes of raw metal and rock sat underneath an overhang on the outside of the building, spilling out onto the ground. A young boy, no older than Tess, rushed out of the building, scooped up some of the metal into a small bucket, and sprinted back inside. He didn’t even look at the group that was slowly approaching.
But the most notable thing was the noise.
The thunder cracks.
Alyssa had heard them from afar. Practically from the moment they left the city walls, though it had just been faint snapping that, at the time, might have been nothing more than her imagination. As she got closer, she started wondering if this elf hadn’t heard about her usage of the gun and decided to make her own version of it. Standing just out in front of the building, it was clearly not gunfire.
It still made her wish she had some ear protection.
Oz and Catal, both apparently used to the noise, marched ahead without even noticing that Alyssa and Jason were a little more hesitant to approach.
“I-It’ll be fine, right?” Jason said, flinching and jumping as another crack blasted over the landscape.
Alyssa could only shrug. She didn’t think that Oz would lead her into some kind of trap. The awkwardness because of the fairy incident had mostly evaporated.
Heat radiated from the open door. The cool morning air turned to the arid scorcher of the desert the closer Alyssa got. It was enough to make her start sweating in her locally sourced wool shirt. Peeking inside, she saw the wide open maw of the forge belching flames into the room as the boy from earlier pumped the bellows.
But the flames couldn’t hold her attention for long.
In the very center of the room, the anvil Alyssa had expected to see sat with a crazed woman standing over it. With a gloved hand, she held a white-hot bar of metal. But her other hand wasn’t holding a hammer. She gripped a wooden lever.
A tug of the lever sent a piston slamming into the bar.
It didn’t stay down. Alyssa watched through the involuntary flinch. The elf pushed the lever back into position. A set of gears engaged with some grooves carved into the massive metal cylinder. They spun with power from the water wheel, drawing the piston high above the anvil. A faint click signified it being locked in place.
The elf twisted the bar and pulled the lever.
Alyssa clamped her hands over her ears.
The elf had taken no notice of them when they arrived and still had yet to look away from the glowing metal. Her eyes were hidden behind a darkened pair of brass goggles, but her mouth was in a wide open smile. A mad smile. The Cheshire variety. The kid noticed, but he looked almost afraid of leaving the bellows unattended.
Three more pistons dropped before Oz had had enough. He walked forward, waving his arms. When that didn’t work, he cupped a hand in a trough of water and tossed it toward her.
The elf’s smile dropped in an instant. Alyssa could see her gloved hand tightening around the bit of the metal she was holding. For a moment, she thought the elf might give Oz a very personal introduction with her current work.
But the tension passed. Her smile stretched ear to ear. “Oz? Oz!” she bubbled. In one swift motion, she slid the bar into the water trough and wrapped her soot-stained arms around the mercenary.
She was wearing something rather like a loose tank top and her breasts were larger than most people’s. Kasita could beat her, but Kasita cheated. The elf did wear chains, as Oz had mentioned, but she wasn’t wearing them like the other slaves in town. Links hung from the solid neck shackle right between her breasts. The chain split off, wrapping underneath each side and around to her back before they looped back around her waist almost like a belt. And she seemed to use the chains like a belt as well. Tools of all sorts hung from the links.
So Alyssa wasn’t sure if Oz’s sudden stiffening was because of her proximity or because she was a monster. Either way, he looked like he wanted to be anywhere but where he was.
Luckily for him, the elf backed away. With the wide grin still on her face, she balled a fist and punched him in the face hard enough to send him stumbling back, clutching at a split lip.
“You still owe me half what we agreed upon for that sword of yours.”
“Owe you?” Oz grumbled between a string of curses.
“As a proper slave, I am fully authorized to accept payment on behalf of my master,” she said, clearly rolling her eyes behind her goggles. “Now pay up. And be grateful that I am counting the satisfaction of hitting you as the interest you’ve accumulated. Because I like you.” The entire time she spoke, she used a sing-song voice. Her body bounced from one heel to the other like she had far too much energy and nothing to do with it.
Still grumbling with a hand pressed to his mouth, Oz managed to fish a few gold coins from his pouch. He flung them at her, but she didn’t even flinch. Snapping her hand about, she caught all four before they hit the ground. They quickly disappeared into one of the pouches hanging from her chains.
“Now that we’re all squared up, get out!” The grin vanished as she shouted, but it was back in place an instant later. “Unless you want to pay upfront for another of my beauties.”
“Not here for me today, elf.” He looked back to the three who were standing just inside the door. He made a vague gesture with his free hand, but Alyssa couldn’t tell who he was waving at even though she knew. “That one wants to talk to you.”
Her goggles locked right onto Jason. “Oh yeah? Oh yeah?” She walked over, but she really didn’t walk. It was more of… hopping. Excitedly. She would lean to one side, centering her weight over a single foot with the other stretched out. Then she would swap feet as she moved forward. “What’s this? What’s this? A new referral?”
For his part, Jason looked significantly less enthused to meet a monster than he had when they had been setting off this morning. He clutched to his stack of papers like they were a shield that would protect him. All the while, she bounced around, inspecting him from every possible angle.
Never once did her goggles stray over to Alyssa or Catal.
She lunged, grabbing one of his hands, making him squeak as she inspected him. “Such delicate fingers.” As quick as she had grabbed them, she let his hand go and started pinching at his shoulders, arms, and waist, humming all the while.
Much like Oz, Jason did not look like he was enjoying his time in the elf’s presence.
But, the more she inspected him, the less excited she seemed to get. Her smile dropped to something that Alyssa would describe as normal while her bouncy movements became more subtle. “You have no musculature. No body for fighting. Not a sword? A rich boy? Well off? I hope you don’t want something boring. I refuse to make another brooch,” she said, sounding revolted by simply having to say the word. When he didn’t respond, she got right up in his face, tilting her head to a new angle with every word spoken. “Well? Well! What is it? I’ll tell you now, I won’t make anything boring. My beauties won’t be wasted on decoration.”
Alyssa nudged Jason with her elbow. It made him squeak again, but seeing her smile seemed to jostle him out of whatever mindset he had gotten stuck in.
“F-Function. Yes. It isn’t decorative. I assure you.” Jason swallowed, sending his protruding Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. He took a breath and looked at the elf with a serious expression. “It’s farming equipment.”
“Farming equipment? Farming equipment!” She spun on her heel, leaning forward until her back was almost parallel with the ground to get closer to Oz without actually walking. “Ozzzzz… What are you bringing me? I’d rather make a brooch than a plow.”
“Ahhh, bite it, you stupid elf.”
As Oz responded, Alyssa jerked her elbow into Jason again, this time far harder. “Are you going to explain properly? Or are you too busy staring at her ass.”
The elf whirled around, long ears flopping side to side as she stopped with a jerk facing Alyssa. Even with the thick glass of her goggles in the way, it felt like her eyes were drilling a hole straight into Alyssa’s forehead. “Explain what?” she asked slowly.
Alyssa didn’t have to answer.
Jason sputtered a bit, but he found his passion, clenching one fist as he held his papers in the other. “It isn’t a plow!” he practically shouted, seemingly trying to match the elf’s enthusiasm. “It’s a machine. A wondrous machine filled with gears, pistons, moving parts, steam, fire! It will roam across fields without a horse or magic, reaping fields and sowing seeds.” Trying to match her former smile, he took a sharp breath. But his voice faltered, sounding more unsure of himself. “D-Doesn’t that sound interesting?”
Silence reigned supreme. The only sound was the rush of fire and the constant gasping hisses of the bellows.
“Are you human?”
Annoyed, Alyssa opened her mouth to refute the claim, only to realize that the question wasn’t directed at her for once.
The elf was looking at Jason.
Guillem did not look impressed. If anything, she looked more annoyed than when she had thought that she would be making a simple plow. “Who designed your machine? Who gave you the idea?”
“W-Well? I drew it. And no one really gave me the idea,” he said, momentarily shifting his gaze to Alyssa.
The elf noticed, following his stare before dismissing her to look back to him.
“It was an elf, wasn’t it? What’s her name? Who was it? Who was it?” Her head was tilting back and forth again, but it was different this time. Joy was missing. Energy was missing. Her head tilts came with a dangerous intensity.
Alyssa wasn’t the only one to notice. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Catal put his hand to his mace. Across the room, Oz was preparing as well.
Jason either didn’t notice the impending danger or didn’t care about it. He looked almost offended. “There was no elf. I’ve never met one before. I mean, I’ve seen some around. But you’re the first elf I’ve ever spoken to.”
Guillem hummed again. It carried a tone to it, but Alyssa wasn’t sure what the tone meant. It didn’t sound particularly good, but it didn’t sound terrible either. Slowly, she started smiling again. Not quite as wide as before, but Alyssa took it as a good sign. “So, the human thinks he can come up with something clever. I see. I see.” She bobbed her head up and down, sending a greenish ponytail bobbing with it. “Very well. I haven’t had a good laugh this week. That parchment carries your idea? Show me.”
“Oh? Oh yes! Please.” At being taken at least mildly seriously, Jason perked up. His hands were trembling as he looked down at the papers. Faster and faster, he started shuffling through them, even managing to drop one, which Alyssa picked up for him. At the very end of the stack, just when Alyssa thought he had forgotten to bring whatever it was that he was looking for, he made a pleased noise. “This! It’s the overall design. Not to scale. These other ones are the individual parts, sketched with far more care,” he said, waving the other papers. “But I thought you might be interested in seeing what the end result might look like.”
“How considerate,” Guillem said, taking the offered paper with a vapid smile. She stared. And stared. Her expression didn’t shift—her smile didn’t grow and didn’t shrink. The only thing that moved were her eyes.
Jason leaned in closer, brushing his shoulder right up against hers. “Ah. You see, this is filled with water. When water boils, it expands by something like two thousand times, so the expansion drives this piston which spins that wheel. That is connected by a leather belt to the drive shaft, propelling it forward. And then this thing at the front—”
“Doesn’t look like an elf design.” It was subtle, but Alyssa thought she detected some of the elf’s earlier enthusiasm creep back into her voice. “Show me the rest.”
Rather than continuing to ramble out explanations for every little thing he showed off, Jason took the wiser course of action and kept his mouth shut, handing over pages one by one as Guillem asked for them.
Without anything particularly interesting going on with the elf at the moment, Alyssa started drifting away, looking around the smithy. There… really wasn’t all that much to look at. The big piston and anvil combo in the center of the room was the most dominating thing, followed closely by the kiln. There were some other things attached to the water wheel’s spinning shaft, though nothing was engaged with it at the moment. A fairly hefty grind wheel sat in one corner. The floor around it was covered in metal shavings. The same held true for what Alyssa could only assume was a lathe. Beyond a few other pieces of machinery that Alyssa wasn’t quite sure about, there was a small pile of swords, another pile of metal bars, racks upon racks of tools that were probably only there because they were too big to hang off Guillem’s chains, and the boy.
Who moved away from the bellows as Alyssa turned her attention to him. Picking up a long pair of tongs from the tool rack, he reached them into the forge and carefully withdrew a ceramic flower pot. Except, instead of flowers, it had glowing molten metal.
Before Alyssa could see what he did with it, Guillem started arguing with Jason.
“If you increase the surface area here, then your water expansion would be more efficient! And why is it all the way at one end? You expect the heat to travel all the way up those tubes? Just put it in the middle!”
“Well, because it needs to be. Someone has to stand here and either cast fire magic or shovel coal in. You people uh… have coal right? I can’t believe I forgot to ask about such a basic thing,” he said, sounding pained. “Or wood would work, but it would take a lot more.”
“Coal? Wood? Are you an idiot? You expect me to believe that you designed all this and then ask such a stupid question?”
Jason’s eyes flicked over to the forge. Without the bellows being actively pumped, the fire wasn’t belching from the front anymore. That didn’t mean it had turned off. Just looking at it made a fresh wave of sweat form on Alyssa’s skin.
“No coal,” Jason said as if he had just had an epiphany. “The kid wasn’t shoveling any and there are no piles lying around. Unless you’ve got some automatic hopper set up—and I don’t see any here and didn’t see any on the outside—then there is no fuel.” He put one hand to his face, sighing loudly. “Of course. I am an idiot. It’s magic, isn’t it.”
“That’s a dragon stone,” Guillem said, thumbing over her shoulder. “You probably don’t need anything quite so intense in this little beauty, but—”
Jason’s back went ramrod straight and a wide grin crossed his face—though it wasn’t quite as wide as Guillem’s from earlier. “B-Beauty? You said that earlier when talking about your work. Does that mean…?”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s interesting. I’ll take on the job. Though I’m not sure what to do about the pricing. This is probably going to require me to make a few special tools. All this custom work. It definitely isn’t as simple as making a sword. Plus the cost of material. I might have to do some tallying and get back to you.”
Whatever bravado and encouragement Jason had mustered together slipped through his fingers. “A-About that. I actually can’t pay.” Guillem’s smile slipped as Jason spoke, but he held up his hands. “Hear me out. Please. We build one. When the next harvest season rolls around, we demonstrate its capabilities. Show it off. Someone will buy it. I’m sure of it. And not just one someone. After we sell the first, more people will want them. Maybe not Lyria, at least not right away. Lyria has the manpower to harvest its huge fields. But outside Lyria? An individual farmer would probably not be able to afford it, but a town? They would buy it. Once they see how useful, how much time and effort these combine harvesters will save them, we’ll have more customers than we know what to do with.”
Maybe because Guillem didn’t look particularly impressed, Jason did not stop talking. “And the farming equipment isn’t all. Imagine carriages that can travel across the landscape faster than any pack animal, capable of carrying a thousand times the weight. Boats that plow through the water regardless of current or wind, again at high speeds. And… And… so much more. It’s all based off the same idea of expanding water, so the tools you make for this won’t be wasted after one use.
“And… And…” Jason took a sharp breath. “If it doesn’t sell… if it’s all a waste… I’ll be your slave as compensation!”
“Jason!” Alyssa snapped, a sentiment echoed by Oz and even the laid back Catal. But where they might argue against him offering to be a slave, Alyssa had different suspicions about his motivations. “Don’t bring your kinks into this?”
“K-Kinks?” Red of embarrassment rushed up his neck and burned the tips of his ears. “No! I didn’t mean it like that. I just don’t have money. The only thing I can do is sell my body!”
Guillem just scoffed. “Even if I wanted to own a useless skeleton of a man who can’t even design anything worth inventing,” she said, pausing to tug at her own chains. “Can’t exactly own a human in my current state.”
Meaning that she would if she had the option, Alyssa noted with a frown.
“What you propose is a risk, but oh it looks fun. Especially a carriage that can carry a thousand times the weight of a mule. I want to hear more! But…” She shook her head, shrugging. “I’ll think about it. Come back in a few days and I’ll tell you what I thought.”
“Out!” Guillem shouted, shoving Jason’s papers back into his chest. “I have actual paying work that I need to finish.”
In seconds, Alyssa found herself shooed out of the smithy. Catal, Jason, and Oz as well. She hadn’t found a chance to even make passing questions about guns. Although, after seeing that the elf clearly had plenty of remaining loyalty to her people, showing off her pistol was out of the question. It had been out before as per her conversation with her mother, but that just affirmed it.
Catal tried consoling Jason, suggesting that Guillem would go for his plan when he came back in a few days. Then, with a fairly obvious wink, he made an offhand comment about them being able to spend more time together. Oz, on the other hand, would not stop talking about her being a menace.
Tuning all three out was the best option. It gave Alyssa a moment to reflect on the interesting experience. Guillem was a slave. But she didn’t really act like it. She had punched Oz, after all. A normal slave would probably be executed on the spot for something like that. Even Oz, who was still complaining about her, didn’t sound like he was going to tell anyone about it.
Compared to the monsters at the Waterhole, who had jumped at the opportunity to escape without question, Guillem looked actually happy to be where she was. If she wanted to leave, it was doubtful that anyone would stop her. That boy had been the only other person in the smithy and he clearly was far too young, inexperienced, and weak to fight against a woman like that. She could probably just walk out and nobody would stop her. It wasn’t like that forge had been inside the city walls.
But she didn’t run away. She stuck around and smiled at the glowing metal as she shaped it to her design.
Alyssa wasn’t sure what she should do. If anything. A month had gone by and she had managed to stay out of trouble for the duration. Sticking her nose into other peoples’ business was a sure way to wind up in trouble.
Sighing, Alyssa looked upward. The moon hung high in the sky, her mark clearly visible on its surface.
One month. It had been a nice month. Just doing things like today. Working for Tzheitza, wandering around, learning more about Lyria and society as a whole. Thinking about it objectively, it really wasn’t a bad life. She missed a lot of modern luxuries, but it was an abstract sort of missing. Life here was just something that she had gotten used to.
However, Alyssa didn’t feel satisfied. Stagnation. That was it. She had found a routine. It was just like she had done on Earth. Maybe that was the real reason she had come out to meet the blacksmith today. Some small part of her had been hoping that something would happen. That some monster would show up and knock her out of her routine. Something she could interact with and maybe fight back against.
Even now, taking her eyes off the moon, she expected to find Tenebrael floating in the air with her arms crossed. Or maybe an army at the city wall. Or explosions inside the towers around the city. Even just Oz mentioning some new job he had undertaken would have been welcome.
But no. Nothing. It was yet another peaceful day.
Oh well. Maybe tomorrow.