A blacksmith working for the king, is tasked to with changing the course of history of his world.
“You’ve done well, blacksmith.”
The king idly traced his thumb over the blade’s perfect razor edge, just lightly enough to avoid its bite. His sanguine expression told a tale: he was well and truly pleased, not putting up a ruse only to pull the rug out from under his company the next moment. His glee was plainly evident, and anyone brave enough to look at his eyes would see the violent designs dancing behind them.
No, Jormund had seen his lies plenty of times, had witnessed the sly smile he favored just before Ravnos ordered a death. This was different. The king was actually happy.
“For you and for the realm, my lord,” Jormund said slowly, bowing low enough to display the back of his neck. “The sky-iron you supplied me with made for a difficult material. But, once I learned the proper technique and adjusted the forge appropriately, it became a truly remarkable metal. I have made one hundred, each as perfect as the last, for your private guard.”
The Crimson King turned a sharp eye back upon the stoic blacksmith. “Do these blades have any special qualities, Jormund? I was under the impression that you would be replicating the blade at my hip.”
Jormund swallowed, but otherwise maintained his composure. “Bloodtaker is unique. Perhaps… perfectly so. I have not yet learned how my ancestors created it, my lord. But I believe I am close to understanding its properties and understanding how blood magic was wrought into its making. These blades do not possess the magical traits of my family’s sword, but you will find that each is as sharp as a shaving razor, and they will take centuries to dull, if they ever do.”
Ravnos swished the blade around in the air a few times, parrying and riposting an unseen opponent. “We don’t have much time, blacksmith. There are rebels to defeat, and our forces need weapons like Bloodtaker. I tire of this rebellion, of doubt, of defiance. You are my secret weapon, and I expect you to follow through.”
Jormund gave a tight-lipped smile and bowed again. “Your faith inspires me, my lord. I require only a bit more time, and another supply of sky-iron.”
Shink. The king sheathed the blade and set it down upon the table in front of him, his expression turning sour. “You used all of it?”
“I felt it prudent to create these weapons for your forces, my lord,” Jormund answered quickly, trying to ignore the little bead of sweat trickling down his spine. “I did not wish to return to you empty-handed. Once I unlocked the secrets of the metal, I wanted to ensure that your elite guard had the best blades available. One of those swords will make quick work of any would-be assassins, I assure you.”
That pleased the king. His wolfish smile returned, and he patted the sword on his hip affectionately. “But nothing quite like Bloodtaker. Perhaps, for now, that is for the best. Only the most trustworthy should hold something this powerful.”
“Indeed, my lord.”
Ravnos swept up the goblet at his desk, drinking deep of its crimson contents. “The other blacksmiths will not be happy, of course. If I give you sky-iron, they cannot have it. They would prefer to see it go into the cannons, or armor, or ships.”
Jormund smiled again. “My lord, if I may be so bold… you don’t strike me as the type of man who would be interested in a sky-iron helmet. Seems a bit of a waste, don’t you think? A metal that will never dull, that can be imbibed with the very fabric of creation…”
The king took another deep drink from his goblet and nodded. “You’re right, of course. You’ve done well. You shall have your sky-iron. It will be delivered to your workshop at first light.”
Jormund bowed yet again, low enough to show the king the back of his neck. “You are wise indeed, my lord. By your leave.”
Ravnos waved a dismissive hand and seated himself behind his magnificent desk. “Yes, yes, get going. You have done well. You may have your pick of my personal cattle as a reward. Take whichever you like back to your chambers.”
The blacksmith turned to leave. “Thank you, my lord. Good evening.”
The red-robed king leaned back into the thronelike chair, savoring the feeling of the velvet cushion on the back of his neck. He did so enjoy the finer things in life.
“Gestalt,” he mused aloud, addressing the servant that stood at attention by the door. “Send a message to the Captains. I’d like them to keep an eye on the blacksmith. I smell conviction on him, and I don’t like it.”
The sallow-faced butler gave a bow. “As you command, my liege.”
He stalked through the castle, anxious to return to the relative privacy of his subterranean workshop and forge. He passed the hall that led to the king’s dungeons, not interested in sharing a meal with Ravnos. He ignored the guards that eyed him suspiciously, keeping his expression stony and his eyes firmly ahead.
Rounding a corner, he nearly lost his composure when he encountered a serving girl impaled upon a torch sconce, her blood streaking the floor. Her eyes were closed, but Jormund could tell that she was still alive, the life slow to drain away.
“Shouldn’t have spilled the king’s goblet, should you?” asked a grimy and scarred old man that Jormund recognized as one of Ravnos’s many torturers. He stood just beneath her, peering up at her euphorically. “Should’ve just done your job and nothing bad would’ve happened to you. You step out of line, that’s how bad things happen to you, missie.”
Jormund avoided looking further at the macabre spectacle, stepping over the crimson stains beneath him and leaving the girl’s soft whimpers behind him. Somewhere, something in him cried, but its voice was unheard, drowned out by his resolve.
He kicked open the door to his workshop and sealed it behind him immediately. Once he was inside, he leaned against the door and took a deep, stabilizing breath.
“A productive meeting, then?” asked a wry voice from across the room.
Jormund snapped his eyes up, his left hand flashing behind him to grip the hilt of an unseen dagger he kept bound to the base of his spine. He scanned the dimly-lit chamber, his enhanced eyesight revealing no source for the voice in any nook or cranny.
“Calm yourself,” chided the voice again. “It’s only me.” The shadows clinging to the far wall shifted and dispersed, and a well-dressed Varothan stepped out of the shrouded darkness. Captain Vexes was lean, handsome, and youthful, all of which served to make him seem less dangerous than he was.
The blacksmith knew better.
Jormund’s knees threatened to buckle, but he managed to stay upright. He released his hold on the dagger and stormed across the room, throwing a few logs on the fire before seating himself at the table in the corner. “Vexes,” he growled. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
“A little bird told me that you supplied Ravnos’s men with a new batch of swords,” Vexes growled, ignoring the accusation. “Do you want to tell me what that’s about?”
The blacksmith suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. “Not particularly, but since you seem to have me at a disadvantage… I had a deadline. My options were to either create the blades or fail, and as we both know, failure would not be advisable for my better health.”
Vexes walked across Jormund’s small chambers, taking a seat across the table from him. “And you thought that the best option was to give the elites a supply of unbreakable razor-blades?”
“The swords will be stolen while enroute for delivery to Ravnos’s men,” he explained quickly. “I’ve seen to everything. It’s going to be a massive attack, so I expect some backlash, but with any luck it will not be on me.”
Vexes leaned back in his chair, his fingers idly tracing his chin as he reacted to this new revelation. “That’s a gutsy move, blacksmith. If Ravnos discovers your involvement…”
“I will be a dead man, yes,” finished Jormund dryly. “Thank you for coming here to tell me so many things I already know, Vexes. I couldn’t manage this without you.”
Vexes grimaced and held up a hand. “Peace. We’re allies. Do not mistake my intentions. I just want to do everything to ensure our victory.”
Jormund gestured to the door. “Then leave me to my work. Return here in four days. Once you see me again, you will have no more need of me.”
Once he was truly alone, Jormund began his work in earnest. He had a bit of sky-iron left from the last batch, just the beginnings of the project he’d begun nearly one month before. He needed more material, of course; so much of it was lost in the forging process, consumed by the hunger of the forge and the power of the magic he was shaping.
The technique had been passed down in his family for as long as any Kirsley could remember. Perhaps it was in their blood, the instructions written on their souls. Jormund never knew for sure. But he had known, from a very young age, that one day he would forge a blade like Bloodtaker. Every Kirsley did, or died trying.
Before long, the forge was roaring and the iron was signing. Jormund lost himself in the pounding of the hammer, the cranking of the billows, the letting of the blood. He lost himself in the work, in the violence and the danger of the ritual. He poured his fire and his fury into the pounding of steel, each swing as strong as the one before. If Jormund was fatigued, the blade would never know it; his goal was too near, his determination too strong, for him to stop now.
He barely noticed when the shipment of sky-iron arrived that morning, stopping only long enough to guzzle down a bucket of water and tell the servants where they could put the material. One of the Captains accompanied them, but Jormund wasn’t sure of his name and didn’t really care. Once the boxes were stacked snugly in his quarters, he shooed the men out and returned to work.
For the next three days, Jormund forged and reforged. The ritual magic, powered by his own blood, consumed a great deal of sky-iron, leaving a metal in its place that was stronger and more dangerous than anything in Ravnos’s armory, save Bloodtaker. Bloodsteel was a Kirsley secret, passed down from parent to child for as long as the line had existed.
But unlike Bloodtaker, forged cold and precise, Jormund’s blade would be different. He’d modified the formulas, adjusted the heat and the time in the forge considerably, and added in a bit of his own creativity. The blade drew in the heat, fed upon it, grew strong from it. The blacksmith was forced to continuously re-ignite the forge, channeling more and more fire into the deadly weapon.
By the second day, he considered the notion that he had made a mistake in the formulas. The blade was drawing more and more heat, its thirst never slaked. He even had to send for more coke, his own supply running dangerously low.
But the morning of the third day was the morning that changed things. Jormund hammered again and again, pounding the blade into shape before stoking it in the raging heat. All at once, the blade flashed with blinding light. The forge went cold in an instant, the stone cracking and shattering with the sudden change in temperature. Jormund leapt back as it crumbled before him, narrowly avoiding a shower of stone shrapnel. He fell backward and landed hard on the stone.
He blinked several times and sat up, suddenly aware that he still held the blade in his hand. The steel that had been glowing only moments before now shone, reflecting the flickering fireplace in its polished, perfect surface. It felt warm in Jormund’s hand, a warmth that betrayed a hunger that he knew dwelt within, a hunger that he had channeled into its making.
He stirred, moving quickly to finish it. The forge was dead, true, but he had a smaller training forge that he could use to finish it. He worked tirelessly, binding a hilt to the blade, a crossguard, a pommel. He polished and sharpened, although he knew it wouldn’t matter; the blade was far deadlier than the keenness of its edge. He never stopped, his determination and the strength of his bloodline pushing him though the hunger, the thirst, the fatigue.
He didn’t even hear Vexes come in, but before he knew it, the Captain’s hand was on his shoulder. “Jormund. You look like you’ve been through the ringer. What’ve you been doing in here?”
The blacksmith leaned back and took a clear breath for the first time in what felt like months. He held perfect weapon up before him, its gleaming surface reflecting his hard gray eyes. “Finishing this.”
He stood, his back aching, his arms burning. But it didn’t matter. His heart sang. He held the blade out to Vexes.
“This is yours,” he said quietly, the weight leaving his hand and his soul. “You’ll know when to use it.”
Captain Vexes grinned and held the sword out before him, marveling at the perfect balance and the peerless craftsmanship. “Gods, Jormund… this is the most beautiful weapon I’ve ever held. It must have a name.”
A voice that was both Jormund’s and not Jormund’s came from within the deepest and most secret part of him, quiet and terrible. “Deathbringer.”