As Ferrar stepped into the abandoned workshop, the light of his lamp pushed back the darkness. However, the building he’d just entered was full of heavy equipment that cast a host of shadows. Ferrar grunted and walked further in. His movements threw up small clouds of dust that had been sitting on the floor. Despite the fact that Herstcrest was still occupied by humans, it seemed like no one had entered this particular building in years. It was one of the warehouses located at the back of the town near the mines.
Yet, even if the humans had abandoned it, this place had drawn Ferrar’s attention. It contained so many secrets and wonders. The hobgoblin walked up to a dusty old furnace and ran his fingers over the iron. The metal was colder than the air and rough. Among the dust and darkness, the furnace didn’t seem like anything special, but to Ferrar it was a marvel. Once, fires hotter than any he’d ever cultivated had burned brightly within it. Ferrar wanted to see those flames dance and feel their heat on his skin. How beautiful would their golden light be? He needed to know how these machines worked and how it to make his own. Being so ignorant of something humans took for granted frustrated him.
Moving on, Ferrar walked over to pile of coal that was stacked to next to a wall. He had learned of this type of rock from the humans. It looked black and like it had already been touched by flames, but it still burned very brightly. Ferrar consider licking the coal for moment, but decided against it. Instead, he walked over to a nearby table.
There were a dozen steel rods lying on the table. Ferrar brushed some of the dust off them and examined the metal beneath. It shone as it reflected back the light from his lamp, almost as if the fire that had forged it was still locked somewhere in the metal. Such intense heat and skill were needed to make even these simple rods. The power of fire was without limit, but it was almost impossible to tame.
After a few more moments of reflection, the hobgoblin walked over to the nearest wall. The stones that made up the base of the wall were held in place by grey mortar. Even they had been shaped by the touch of flames. That didn’t surprise Ferrar, quite the opposite. He knew that everything of value was forged in fire at some point, even if it was just by the weak light of the sun. Certainly, it was the inner fire that burned within Ferar that drove him forward in his endless quest for power.
Ferrar spent the next few minutes wandering around the inside of the workshop. There was a lot of metal equipment inside. The hobgoblin couldn’t figure out what most of it was for, but here and there he saw hints of secret knowledge. What had this place been like back when it had been in operation? Had every furnace contained a shining blaze? It must have been awesome to behold.
Turning away, Ferrar walked back outside. It was time for him to meet up with some of his chieftain’s human allies, and he didn’t want to be late. His chieftain had gone to a lot of trouble to arrange this meeting.
The streets of Herstcrest were still almost completely empty, even after Ilisti had taken the place over. His soldiers could occasionally be seen moving about in small patrols, but the citizens of the town were still staying indoors and almost never came out unless ordered to. The only exceptions were the work parties that went to tend the fields every morning and came back every afternoon, but even they were silent and kept completely to themselves.
It didn’t take long for Ferrar to make his way through the empty streets and arrive at his destination, a large house next to Ilisti’s mansion. The vympir noble had began turning it into a temporary barracks for his troops. There were two of them guarding the front door as Ferrar approached.
“You’re the hob we were told to expect?” one of the guard asked him.
That was sort of a stupid question, but Ferrar nodded in acknowledgement. “Yes, I’m here to see the humans you have found for me.”
“Right, then head inside and take a left. There will be a door down the hallway to your right. The workmen are waiting for you there,” the guard replied.
The man had tried to sound indifferent, but the hobgoblin’s presence clearly made him both curious and nervous. Ferrar found Ilisti’s soldiers to be interesting. They were much less willful and curious than any humans he’d encountered before, but their inner fire still burned brightly, unlike the people of Herstcrest.
Walking past the humans, Ferrar entered the building and did as he’d been instructed. He took a left turn and found the right door. On the other side of it was a large sitting room and half a dozen humans. One of the men was another of Ilisti’s guards, but the others were all residents of Herstcrest. They were easy to tell apart because of the empty look in their eyes and because they all flinched as he entered the room. They weren’t used to seeing hobgoblins, but they were used to being afraid.
The guard walked over to Ferrar. “My lord promised you a craftsman and these are the best we could find. We had our patrols go house to house and ask around for workers that had the skills you requested.”
“So, they can melt iron so that you can make things from it?” Ferrar asked him. That was the important thing. He’d been told you had to smelt iron before you could work it.
The guard shrugged. “Probably, ask them. Just let me introduce you first. These are a cowardly lot.”
The arms-man then turned to face the nervous-looking townsfolk who were standing against the far wall. “You all know why you are here but let me remind you. My lord, the new master of this town, is looking for someone to help our important ally here. As per the agreement, you will not be harmed, and if chosen for this task you will receive a substantial reward to be paid out to your family immediately.”
The gathered craftsman began muttering amongst themselves as Ferrar studied them. Like almost all the residents of Herstcrest, they were skinny and frail looking humans. Most of them wore plain grey clothes and had unkempt beards. Although they looked unsure about the deal, Ilisti had apparently offered them something of value, because none of them left.
“Can all of you do what was asked for?” Ferrar questioned them.
Being addressed directly by the hobgoblin startled the craftsman. They were silent for a few moments, until a man with a particularly long beard spoke up. “We weren’t given too many details, but from what I can tell, you have some iron ore you’d like to smelt into workable ore?”
“Yes, I know you need to use fire, but what I try doesn’t work.”
The bearded man grunted sourly and stared at the hobgoblin. “So, I’m guessing you don’t have access to a real bloomery like what we have here. What is your goblin home like? And what sort of resources are you working with?”
Ferrar frowned. That was a complicated question. “I have a few kilns to make lots pots and bricks, and I’m using the bricks to make houses.”
“Hmm, that’s better than nothing. I know of an old technique for purifying raw iron ore that doesn’t need much more than that. It’s not efficient but I should be able to get it working.”
Another craftsman shook his head. “I can’t do anything without real equipment. Count me out.”
Looking at the hobgoblin with suspicion, a third craftsman spoke up. “What are you going to be using this iron for?”
Ferrar shrugged. “I just like playing with fire, but the boss wants to make arrowheads for hunting, axes for chopping down trees, and some other stuff too. I try to keep the boss happy, so that he lets me burn more things.”
The first man to volunteer sighed. “Right. Well, I don’t care what you’re using the iron for. I just want to leave this place and to take my daughter with me. I hear Shelter is still around and a much better place to live these days.”
“You have inner fire. I like that,” Ferrar remarked as he met the man’s eyes. He didn’t seem quite as numb as most the other people from Herstcrest.
Turning away, Ferrar studied the other craftsmen. None of them had the same energy inside them. “Alright, I choose you. You will come with us back to our settlement and show me how to make fire so hot it can harden iron and melt it.”
The man nodded, and none of the others seemed all that upset about losing out. Ferrar just grinned as he began to plan. Now, he was one step closer to building a workshop to match any the humans had ever built. Soon, he would catch a new, deeper, glimpse of the secret truth hidden within the flames. All he had to do was burn the world down.