After a few long days, Vos had fully recovered and was released from the infirmary. Jothal had forged a nice pile of supplies for the Zehnai during this time, and had enlisted his help in carrying them to the temple after they met up again. The roadways were very crowded and the ceilings very short for a man of Vos’s stature, but the temple’s large chambers allowed for a comfortable enough walking space while delivering supplies. After a few trips there and back, the two sat down with Master Hebak for lunch.
“I knew I should have left Mainstay as soon as I got better. The first thing you do around here is put a man to work.” Mast Hebak laughed and placed a small roast pig on the table. Vos and Jothal both tore bits of the meat off and ate it with a freshly baked loaf of sweet bread. Vos washed down his meal with a draught of ale, which Jothal eyed enviously. She would never get away with drinking in front of her master, who strongly disapproved of a blacksmith drinking before sundown. The workday was far from over, and Jothal needed her wits about her if she was to forge any more decent weapons.
“I don’t think there’s any more wares to deliver… Have you had any luck with that new ore?” Jothal asked Master Hebak. He snorted and shook his head.
“That ore is unlike any I have ever seen. It won’t melt in the forge, and it’s harder than steel.” The Master gave Jothal a half-grin. “I suppose my efforts would be more productive helping you with those supplies right now.”
“That would be great. It seems like the High Priest asks for more supplies to be made every day.” After lunch, Jothal and Master Hebak worked on a few breastplates, greaves, and a dagger or two before the day was done, but Jothal could not keep her mind off of the ore that was giving Master Hebak so much trouble. Master Hebak was the best blacksmith Jothal knew, and if he couldn’t figure out how to even smelt it, let alone craft anything from it, then it must be something special. Before going to bed, Jothal snuck a chunk of the ore into a pouch around her waist and made plans to investigate when she next got a chance.
This very chance came a week later. The supply of iron ore from the mines outside of the city had slowed down, so Jothal and her master had more free time than usual whilst waiting for the ore. She bid farewell to the master and jogged down the road towards an inn. Vos was waiting for her there.
“Hey, I brought the ore.” She sat down on a barstool next to him and removed the piece of ore from her pouch. “You’re a traveller… Have you seen anything like this?” The man turned the piece over in his hands, a quizzical look on his brow.
“I’m not sure… I can vaguely remember a piece of this, or something like this, being worn as jewelry, but I’m not quite sure…” Vos handed it back to Jothal.
“Whatever it is, we need to find a way to smelt this… “
“You a blacksmith?” The bartender turned to the two. “How about that iron shortage? I heard that they’ll be out of ore by the end of the week.”
“The end of the week?” Jothal was shocked. “I didn’t know things were that bad… That mine should have been fruitful for at least another hundred years.”
“That’s what the miners tell me. One thing’s for sure… I’ll be seeing a whole lot more miners around here once there’s no work to be done.” Jothal turned to Vos as the bartender walked away to take care of another patron.
“Those mines practically run Mainstay. Without the supply of iron ore, the craftsmen here won’t be able to do their work. This isn’t good.” Jothal explained.
“You don’t think it’s that darkness, do you?” Vos replied.
“It hasn’t reached Mainstay yet… Besides, I don’t think some bad air could remove iron ore from the ground. Something isn’t right. I have to talk to Master Hebak.” Jothal returned home. She found her master sitting in front of the forge sullenly.
“Master Hebak!” Jothal called.
“Yes, child?” The master seemed to snap out of a reverie and turned to face the two people entering the buildings.
“I’ve heard rumors that the mines are drying up… Is this true?” The master sighed and looked downwards.
“Yes, I’m afraid the rumors seem to be true, although I pray to the Great Creator that they are not and this whole incident is some mistake. The miners are extracting what little ore they can find, but it won’t be enough, not for the Zehnai, not for the Ithoans.”
“What about that new ore?” Vos mentioned, breaking a pause in conversation. Master Hebak looked angry at the thought.
“It’s no use. That ore is no good. Useless, even. It’s good for keeping a door open, nothing more.” He stood to his feet suddenly, jostling the quenching basin and causing a pair of tongs to fall to the ground. “I’ll see you in the morning.” With that, Master Hebak trudged up the stairs, leaving Jothal and Vos sitting in front of the furnace.
“Sorry…” Vos said, sheepishly. Jothal noticed that the samples of ore that High Priest Tacims had given them were thrown in a corner of the room. Most pieces had been shattered into smaller ones, and some fine powder had been formed from the breaking. Jothal ran her finger through the dust and observed the powder. It was drier than bone and seemed to sparkle slightly. She rubbed her two fingers together, letting the powder drift gently down into a few droplets that had spilled onto the edge of the quenching basin after Hebak’s sudden departure. The powder swirled, making deep red streaks fly through the clear water. By the light of the furnace, it seemed to glow slightly. Jothal moved the quenching basin back into its position before Hebak had upset it, and watched as the water evaporated by the heat of the fire. Vos seemed to be watching the droplet as well.
“Can it really be that simple…?” Jothal sat up, stunned. She brushed the place where the water droplet had been with her hand and a tiny dot of reddish metal clinked to the ground. Jothal picked it up and marveled at the gem. “Certainly not…” Jothal clamped the small metal dot carefully the fallen pair of tongs and held it in the fire. Slowly, and very much unlike the ore itself, the metal dot began to glow softly. The heat required to smelt iron was not enough to be able to shape this new metal, but it was a start. At least now they had something to work with.
Jothal leapt to her feet and ran upstairs to fetch Master Hebak. Once back in the smith, she grabbed a handful of stray powder and a cup full of water. After mixing the two, she placed the metal cup at the edge of the forge and watched as the water evaporated, leaving behind a cup of reddish metal. Hebak’s eyes lit up.
“That’s more like it!” He bellowed, suddenly very awake.
“Not so fast!” Jothal chuckled. “We don’t have enough heat to shape this metal. We need fuel that burns hotter. Much hotter.” Master Hebak smiled.
“I think I know just the thing.”