Chapter 3 — Strange Feeling of Foreboding
Having washed away his sweat and changed into casual clothing, Gunnar returned to the forge to find his father leaning against the brick wall, drinks in hand.
To be specific, two glasses of lemonade.
“Your mother Monda knows how to make her husband smile,” he said, shaking the glass in his left hand invitingly. “Come on. Take it, son.”
As usual, Gunnar’s face felt hot at the sight of the cool yellow drink. He waved it away, coming beside his father and plopping to the ground.
A hoarse sound came from his father, a mix between a choke and a laugh. “Gunnar, it’s not poison. Or worse, alcohol.”
Gunnar pressed his lips together, gulping down his laughter. “I still prefer water.”
His father blinked once, then thrust the glass into his hands. With a start, Gunnar caught it, staring at the strands of pulp whizzing along with the splashing liquid, a sticky drop jumping onto his thumb. His gaze ran away to the ashes in the firepit, the newly forged weapons and metal tools he helped mold, and two hammers side by side hanging on a rack.
He forced his lips open, allowing the lemonade to run down his throat. Refreshing, especially after labor fatigue, but it wasn’t water.
“Some son I have,” his father rambled, shaking his mess of a whitish-red beard. “Placing water of all drinks on a pedestal. Well, at least you still believe in the family tradition, unlike your two older brothers. Working with metal, there couldn’t be a more manly job than that, you know?”
Gunnar nodded, still admiring the results of today’s labor. “I hear you, father.”
Of course, his father was teasing his siblings. Jor was studying in a university, taking an interest in science, while Bills was a newly employed merchant and a part-time trainer in martial arts and defense. That left himself to follow in his family’s footsteps as a blacksmith, and that contented him. The feel of shaping and molding solid iron left a strong impression, second only to one other experience.
Gunnar’s father suddenly frowned, a suppressed fear taking hold of him. “Bills’s down in the mines right now,” he said.
It didn’t take much thought for Gunnar to know what he meant. “He’ll be fine. The Circle of Elders don’t choose frail people to investigate situations like this.”
His father slouched lower, his haggard appearance intensifying. “Son, that’s not what worries me. Yes, Bills can handle plenty of the cryptids that appear down there, and yes, he’s surrounded by equally well-bodied dwarves. Not to mention they’re equipped with vials of refined magic, plus a few raised magic tools in case matters get dangerous. That much firepower makes Bills safer than the two of us, hah.”
Gunnar’s face went funny, remembering when they tossed some of his baby clothes into the firepit, causing a burst of fire that nearly charred his face. Why on Fantasmyth did that heighten his love for a blacksmith’s life?
A hand clasped his shoulder with such strength that Gunnar’s sturdy constitution reeled from the sudden gesture. “Gunnar,” his father concluded. “I’m not worried about Bills’s safety. I’m worried about what he’ll find.”
And he got up and left, leaving Gunnar in the dark, weathered forge. A shudder ran through his body.
He’s confident, he thought, slowly bringing himself up. Confident that something unusual is happening. Something terrible for us dwarves. The shadows around him seemed to deepen into puddles of umbra, a ringing cry emanating throughout the void of his mind.
When Father believes that something bad’s coming, that’s a sign of trouble.
The dwarf shook himself. He didn’t know much about what was going on, but apparently a strange phenomenon deep in the caverns had spooked the miners. Details weren’t divulged to anyone but the dwarven Circle of Elders, representatives of the various tribes that made up the mountain dwarves. If not for how seriously they took the matter, Gunnar would have overlooked the matter.
Leaving the forge to return to his closeby home, he warmly greeted his mother and his brother Jor before entering his room. Time to complete a task he was assigned earlier.
His hands shot out under his bed, returning with a dust-covered battleaxe — of course there was dust. Gunnar cleaned it off, inspecting the glint it produced beside the lamp on his desk. Pleased, he laid it down before opening a drawer, pulling out a container with a murky fluid inside.
Opening it, the pungent smell of dirt and clay wafted throughout the room. The dwarf basked in it, eyeing the substance within the container. Brown and shimmering, it almost looked like some kind of sacred mud, if mud could become sacred in the first place. But in fact, he was holding something much more wonderful, the only thing more captivating than playing with iron: raw earth magic.
No, refined earth magic. Provided to Gunnar by his mentor, a teacher in the field of magic manipulation, he was tasked to refine the mana and shape it, then apply it to any tool or weapon he crafted. Of course, he had already done this multiple times before with his mentor, otherwise he wouldn’t be trusted to do this at the comfort of his own home. The idea was to learn about how an aspect he chose to apply to refined magic would match with a tool. If accidents did arise, his mentor assured him that they would be cleaned up, whatever that meant.
Gunnar had long thought of an appropriate aspect to provide this batch of earth magic. At first, he had wanted to apply a sort of ‘tremor’ aspect, something that would allow the weapon to make the earth shake when struck. But as alluring as it sounded, that wasn’t a wise choice when one lived underneath deep in the mountains. In the caverns? Gunnar would be crushed and buried alive by a pile of his own stupidity.
It also struck him that versatility was key. If he was to enchant a weapon, the enchantment had to be useful in plenty of situations. On that note, he chose to refine his given earth magic with an aspect he believed would be a cool and practical application to the battleaxe. In hindsight, the aspect made more sense with a shovel or spade, but whoever fought with a shovel?
Gunnar grabbed the weapon, carefully coating it with the earthly magic and watching it shimmer a light brown. ‘Dig’ it is, he thought.
Brimir was pacing in a small circle, distress in every motion he made. “Underground, dwarves, ill omen,” he kept muttering to himself.
Jakyra almost believed that the dragon king would punch the walls in frustration. The moment she relayed Ismat’s warning to him, his mood had dipped, and he grimly started to ponder about what it meant. What got into him?
The iron-gray metallik member of the Dragon Crown moved in front of Brimir. Shoving him aside, The red-purplish gleem glared at him, then to the two wyirms, who shook their heads as if answering a question. His cold gaze swept over Fumnaya, who looked the other way, before settling on Ulm.
“If you want, you can ask Ismat,” the blue dragon said. “Oh, I’m sure he would love to give his king a better explanation without any cost or recompense, never mind a demand for his magic back.”
“Enough,” Brimir said, turning to Jakyra with fiery eyes.
“Yes, I’m the intermediary, and you want me to make the artifact explain,” said Jakyra, forcing a sigh. Her claw fell back onto the pink-red icosahedron. “Ismat? The king doesn’t get your hint.”
Good, leave him in the dark, the scaly voice said, humored. I’d love to know that I’ve made him unable to sleep at night. Look here, I cannot give more than a vague warning. Do I look like I have the magic capabilities to accurately sense the source of the danger and pinpoint it?
“Oh boy,” Jakyra said, wiping away the tiniest smirk on her face. “You mean you need more psychic magic to understand your own hint.”
Ulm and Brimir blankly looked at each other. The latter slowly turned to a corner, only taking his eyes off Ulm once he rested his head to think. A scowl formed on his face.
Should I continue to assume that I won’t be getting that magic I need? Ismat asked, oblivious to the scene. Jakyra murmured a yes to the gem, wondering how this was going to be resolved.
And not just the dispute between Brimir and Ismat — what about her? If she really was going to be the intermediary for Ismat, a revered magic construct that served as a defensive tool, wouldn’t she end up entangled in Wynn’s own military? That, or she’d have some role in the government itself. And while both meant getting good pay, Jakyra was loath to live such a restricted life. A lazy, nomadic life, entwined with jabs at the government, appealed to her better.
Then again, Ismat isn't interested in working for the dragons, she remembered. Or at least, not in the way he did when Scal still stood. And he seems reluctant to acknowledge me as his intermediary.
Confusion pierced through her mind when she thought about that. Why did Ismat need an intermediary anyway? Sure, his words implied that he didn’t trust ‘weak’ people to maintain him and convey his messages, but that was a pathetic excuse. And sillier still would be that he abhorred directly speaking to Brimir or anyone else.
Jakyra whispered to Ismat concerning that line of thought. Why have an intermediary, you ask? came his rumbling voice. What, so now you want to opt out of being the supposed intermediary?
Jakyra lifted a talon from the gem.
Great. Threatening to poke my heart again. Are you really the intermediary I sought? Your bullying tactics, sly as they are, make you seem like a hollow threat that’d crumple against the fists I currently lack.
“Oh, you got me,” Jakyra said with a grin. “Guess I’m not the intermediary, so I may as well leave you here—”
Stop toying with me! Ismat’s voice almost sounded like he was begging, broadening the smile on Jakyra’s face. Gah, you’re definitely shrewd enough to be my intermediary. But as to why I need one of those in the first place, yes, I do admit that it’s more than just having someone to speak on my behalf. However, I won’t explain until I’ve recovered, which means that I must request my required supply of magic. Well?
By this time, Brimir had gotten up and awaited Jakyra’s message. A nervous chuckle rose from her throat. “Just discussing my role as intermediary. Ismat won’t explain even that without asking for his magic.”
“Of course,” Brimir said, as if ready for such a response. His imposing stance sucked the attention of everyone in the room. “Of course. But demand as he may, I cannot offer him that magic yet.
“Jakyra, try not to take offense. Do you think I’d trust some construct buried in Scal’s ruins without having some reservations? I don’t take well to Ismat greedily demanding his magic supply, as if he’s scheming to get rid of us. It’s like how the Crown’s never taken well to your methods at nudging us around — I’m sure you recall my late father’s hatred for you and your rulebending.” His sight flickered towards Fumnaya for the briefest second.
“It’s taken us plenty of time to understand that you have no seriously ill intentions towards us, so why would the Crown not take the time to probe Ismat’s? I’ve never heard of anything unusual occurring in the dwarven mines, not according to what my messengers told me from their last talk with the Dwarven Circle of Elders. And mind you, that was but two days back. If he speaks the truth, I don’t think he’ll mind me taking a trip over myself to confirm this.”
Imagine telling a de facto offender of the Crown to not take offense at her ability to offend them, Jakyra joked to herself, noticing her hand had somehow shifted from the gem in the claw-shaped rod to the ground.
Before she placed it back on the gem, however, Brimir spoke up one last time. “Besides, none of the dragons possess psychic-based mana pools. We only have the fire mana pool here, along with a lightning pool at Hornos. Even on the off chance we can get a batch from our rivals the unicorns, only if we’re satisfied with Ismat’s loyalty and intentions for our society will we feed him his magic.”
For some reason, Jakyra couldn’t help but think of how parents always told their children to eat healthy foods so they’d grow up big and strong. For a revered magic tool meant to act as a defensive weapon, Ismat would take a huge amount of offense to that, she told herself, placing her claw back on the construct’s heart.
A fresh headache pounded as Ismat’s annoyance seeped in. Where were you? For a good while I thought myself abandoned by you worms. Have you no respect to at least inform me of when you’re going to momentarily leave?
“My bad,” Jakyra said, summarizing Brimir’s speech for him. Ismat acted grouchy at having his magic turned down yet again, but with time, his mood became tranquil and somber. His change of mood seemed to hint his acceptance of Brimir’s wariness.
Reasonable, he said at the end. Though I still feel entitled to being given my fire magic, I can’t argue against that logic. For now, I’ll wait. Ah, and apparently you and the Dragon Crown have a rocky relationship?
Jakyra interpreted that as meaning, You distrust the government too, don’t you? “I wouldn’t say that,” she quietly said, hoping the others wouldn’t hear. “It’s more that I have a way of getting under their skins and getting away with it. And I assure you, I don’t do it out of spite or to trouble them.”
Why am I being secretive about what the Crown already knows about me? a thought popped up in Jakyra’s head, finding it silly that she felt the way she did. For all the trouble she was worth, she had good intentions and respect for the Dragon Crown, and they recognized that. Maybe it was more about her acknowledging it in words?
Ismat chuckled, recognizing the tumult of the coairse dragon’s emotions and moving away from the topic. There is little need to speak further. We’ll continue when appropriate. I’ll assume expecting any response from the unicorns about that psychic mana supply is foolishness, but at least the Crown learning to trust me and regaining my fire mana is something to look forward to. The presence shut itself off, and Jakyra took it as her cue to leave.
Before she could do so, however, Ismat’s voice rang out one last time, an ominous air engulfing it. Though, if I must be frank, perhaps their discomforts with me aren’t unfounded, if one considers my future plans… More words spewed forth, but they came in a muddy jumble, like a murmur of staggered grunts and throaty noises.
Jakyra instinctively threw her hand back in perturbation. “What?” Brimir said, the coairse’s actions rippling into an anxiety that overcame him and the other members of the Crown. That festered into a moody fog when she explained Ismat’s baffling last sentence, a common frown descending upon them.
What do I make of that? Jakyra wondered. Ismat saying something to garner the Crown’s antagonism seemed outright stupid to her. Had something messed up the construct when he was unwittingly buried at Wynn?
Or was he intentionally warning that he himself was a threat, in accordance with his nature? After all, despite his high intelligence, no construct could rebel against the binding rules of conduct guiding it. With Ismat ultimately being a defensive tool with abilities including a sense for threats, perhaps he was compelled to admit that he too was a danger to the dragon kingdom.
It’s possible. And judging from how Ulm stared at the construct’s gemstone of a heart before whispering to Brimir, who nodded tersely, Jakyra believed that the twosome had arrived at a similar conclusion.
“Well, that resolves the matter.” Brimir tsked at the gem with a suspicious half-smile. “As I feared, Ismat isn’t a particularly reliable tool, but we’re lucky that he’s under an obligation to defend the dragons from all forms of dangers. Jakyra, consider your need as an intermediary dismissed.”
“Why? What are you doing with Ismat?” Jakyra asked, though she had an allusion as to what the answer would be.
“Simple. By tomorrow, the Ismat you know will be regressed back into its original base state.” A dry laugh escaped from the king dragon. “Better safe than sorry. My experts in magic tampering may only recover a sliver of the artifact’s abilities, but it’s better than the latent risk that its personality poses.”
The pink dragon didn’t know whether to be relieved or saddened. Ismat’s personality was going to be removed, leaving behind more or less the artifact itself. Sure, that terminated her need to act as its intermediary, returning her taken-for-granted freedom as a lone nomadic dragon. But despite Ismat being a construct and not alive in its truest sense, this still felt like a kangaroo court execution.
Meh, she said, easily resolving her conflicting feelings.
Good luck defending against death, Ismat, she added, deciding to at least give the construct a respectful sendoff as she departed the room. Or was she rubbing salt in the wound? Irony was fun to play with.
- Spatial constraints are irrelevant.
- Insert User Title Here.
Peace be upon you.
You've met a madman with a fondness for ducks, striving to write high-quality stories.
Currently writing a Pokemon Mystery Dungeon fanfic on fanfiction.net and AO3 (not posting it on Royal Road just yet). Needs to write more original work sooner or later.