By Frank Gori
Zool felt like he had been struck by an arrow. Hodge was alive and offering to soul forge a weapon for the Sewer King as payment for their escape. Every apprentice Blacksmith dreamed of rebuilding the great fire-forge of Hodge. Finding out Hodge was alive was like hearing The Nameless God was reborn.
They say Hodge lived among dwarves for fifty years and studied a great red dragon to build the forge. The forge was based on the dragon’s breath chamber and could make a flame so hot it would melt diamonds. It survived only long enough to forge “Hallow-shard” the great sword held by the Blacksmith Guild high general. “Hallow-shard” was made of an alloy no Blacksmith has seen before or since, as the great fire-forge
Yet Zool believed the elderly orc when he claimed to be Hodge. Something inside of Zool understood immediately the elder orc’s quality and were he not in the literal bowls of the city in hostile company, Zool would kneel before him.
Soul-forging was beyond the comprehension of most. Hacks used it as a shortcut to magic, discarding parts of their own experience cheaply. In the hands of a master, one who had honed a soul of worth sacrificing a piece of such a worthy individual made for a potent item worthy of legend. Such an item in the Sewer King’s defiling hands was like swallowing shards of glass, it just didn’t sit right in the gut.
The bargain was struck quickly, and Zool barely recovered from the shock before it was time to go. Hodge walked up to Zool and the Lizardman could not keep a tear from forming in the corner of his eye. Hodge took his hand in the clasp of brotherhood and drew Zool into a mentor’s embrace. In Zool’s ear he whispered, “you are more than a sunder, Zool Swiftblade. I have seen the quality that lies inside you. It just needs to be tempered by a steadier hand.” Hodge’s grasp burned like molten steel then cooled like the quench, “I’ve given you a gift and I forbid you to pass it to another until you have learned the secrets of soul forging.”
The moment would haunt Zool. As Hodge drew away Zool knew that he intended to die. They had not broken Hodge in that cage. Whatever the fools from the Workman Guild sought, they had not taken it. Hodge was trading his life for the lives of seventy eight other souls and he was resolved to do so.
Zool could feel the new mark on his forearm, Hodge’s mark. In a saner world Hodge would have passed that mark to his finest apprentice before he died, and with it a measure of his skill and power would live on. For the first time since his apprenticeship Zool yearned to work at the forge, for the first time in over a decade he yearned to be a maker. His master told him he lacked the talent, but for the first time Zool didn’t believe it.
As everyone else filed out of the Sewer King’s receiving chamber, Zool lingered. The mark on his arm was imbued with strong magic and the guild would want it passed on to a more worthy hand. Forbidding Zool to do so until he learned the secrets of soul forging would make things complicated. Yet it all felt like… providence.
Dab’s meaty oversized hand roughly clapped Zool’s shoulder, “Come on, we got to go now.” Zool pondered drawing his magic and steel against this Sewer King for a moment, but the mark seemed to gain weight with the thought.
A last glance toward Hodge was all Zool could afford because in the end he had work to do. The boy who daydreamed of rebuilding a forge that mimicked dragon-fire had another calling to answer. Zool afforded himself a second to salute Hodge, so he choose the salute of a student to his master.
In that moment Zool understood that it wasn’t his master’s assessment of his worth that held him from becoming a maker, it was his own acceptance of it. Another time soon Zool would stand before the forge and follow the instructed work of a new master but for now…
Seventy seven backs needed watching.