Sam wrinkled his nose as he stirred the cauldron and waited for the impending arrival of the sun over the horizon. Timing was extremely important with things like this, which was why Sam had prepared for almost two full weeks before he had made this attempt. This was the culmination of weeks of work that would hopefully give them the weapon they needed to assist with the rising threat of the Ogre Gorge.
Even if a significant percent defected away from the invading forces and snuck through the portal to plead for sanctuary, everyone involved knew that there would be spies planted amongst the ogres that were crossing over. Yet the combined forces of Zone 1, Donnyton, and the Orders didn’t want to start turning individuals away.
Well, some did. It was brought up quite a few times by the insufferable man who led Zone 1’s forces in the area. But Donnyton and the Orders agreed that allying with as many ogres as possible was the correct long term strategy. Otherwise, the ogres would simply fight their way out in order to have access to the abundant Aether of Earth.
Instead of closing off their path for sanctuary, each of the allied forces made their own preparations for the eventuality they all feared: an attack that would result in the ogres gaining a foothold on Earth. Once the Earthlings lost the chokepoint of the portal, it would be very difficult to capture it again.
Sam’s response was to forge a weapon. A weapon that could become the keystone of their new defensive efforts. Which was why he had spent the last week coming here at dawn to stir the cauldron. As the seventh day, this one would be the last.
Yet the time dragged even after Sam covered his mouth and nose with a rag. the entire time, he could only look down at the cauldron full of ogre blood and do his best to not breathe deeply. This had better be worth it.
After seven days in the sun, the smell was horrendous. And yet somehow it hadn’t occurred to him to manufacture a legitimate mask…
Sam was standing in the shade of one of the sharp ridges of the salt flats several miles to the West of the Ogre Gorge. Although he had been sent North to help with the enemies from the Epic Dungeon, after Alana had dealt with one and Zone 1’s Mjolnir dealt with another, a lot of Donnyton’s forces had been diverted to the East to help with the escalating problem of the ogre invasion.
Sam fought a little, but most of what he did was equip their forces. Essentially, Earth’s strategy was to maintain an elite force at the portal at all times with a larger group standing ready a larger distance away. Therefore, fights were usually short and probing as the ogres tried to understand Earth’s defenses.
At the moment, Sam was trying to equip someone who he had never created a weapon for in the past. Specifically, the leader of a very special division that had been given Status as an honorary Raid Group under Donnyton’s auspices. Which was why Sam was slightly bitter about the presentation now, and Mrs. Hamilton was quite jolly and insisted on calling Sam’s personal efforts “proof of Donnyton’s sincerity.”
The first rays of the sun made over the sparkling top of the ridge and began to illuminate the gulley in which Sam worked. Sam continued to calmly stir as the warm yellow light of the sun slowly began to flow down the far side and toward his feet. His movements were stable and practiced; his grip on the wooden poll was firm. By this point, Sam was an old hand at ritual. And although he had felt nothing special for the first six days that he did this every morning, he began to feel it now.
Sam’s Skills began to stir as the light flowed inevitably closer.
It was a learning curve, Sam reflected, to create meaningful things. You could rely on activating the Skills to force the ritual and weight of meaning into an item, but Sam had ultimately concluded this led to half-assed results after a long series of experiments. What Randidly had taught all of Donnyton was that what they were doing with every aspect of the System was tellings small bits of an infinitely large story.
You could activate the Skills to get a result, of course, But it was better still to tell a story so well that the image of what you wanted marshaled the Skills to action without you having to lift a finger.
When the sunlight finally rose high enough to peek over the edge and shine down into the slowly whirling cauldron of blood, Sam could feel something change; a story had been planted here. So he pulled out the wooden spoon he had used to manipulate the liquid every day for the past week and used a mesh next to fish out the metal biding its time within.
As Sam did so, he could visibly see the blood in the cauldron sinking away. It was subtle at first, but as he caught a ingot and pulled it to the surface, the blood-level began to visibly dip downward. Sam’s grin was sharp as he pulled up the first ingot.
The metal itself wasn’t what he had originally planned on using for this project, but a single day before Sam was to start the project, a package had arrived from Kharon. Inside, Sam found quite a few examples of rare metals that Erickson Steel had pulled up out of Zone 19. Of them all, the one that left Sam completely shocked were the White Phosphorus Steel.
Rather than the usual dull grey of metal, these looked almost silver-plated, their exterior reflecting the surrounding area with sharp clarity. And when an ingot was sliced cleanly in half, which was not an easy prospect even with Kayle’s assistance, the interior was just as vividly reflective.
Perhaps that was what pushed Sam into using this metal. He could intuitively feel from it that this metal could hold meaning if it was planted deeply enough within it. So he had shaped the reflective, silver-white metal into ingots and got to work
Now, however, after sitting within the cauldron and having been slowly woven together with ogre blood and sunlight, the first White Phosphorus Steel ingot came out just as reflective but dyed scarlet. Suddenly the world reflected within was no longer reality; it was a bloody and horrifying dreamscape of endless maroon clouds and war.
One by one Sam removed the heavy ingots from the cauldron, and each one he pulled out seemed to suck out a little bit more of the ogre blood from the cauldron. Which continued until Sam pulled out the last of the twenty ingots and the cauldron was abruptly bone dry; all the blood was gone.
Humming softly to himself, Sam carried an armful of the new scarlet, reflective ingots over the portable station that Sam had set up in full view of the sun. Although Sam couldn’t bring his station with him here, he had spent some of his preparation time improving this station so it would suit his purposes.
It might be superstitious, but Sam preferred to physically carry the metal than storing it an interspatial ring for the movement. Especially because the sun continued to shine above. And since he was the Dawn Smith, maintaining the sun’s light on the metal could only help him in the long run.
Still, Sam was slightly surprised as he carried the scarlet ingots because of the feedback he received from his hands: the metal was warm. Heated to the temperature of luke-warm milk. Perhaps pushed up by the blood to reach the temperature of a recently deceased body.
Good metal, Sam thought with a smile.
If metal was the most important ingredient, the second most important was heat. With almost obsessive intensity, Sam considered the structure of his banked fire and added several thick and valuable oak logs that had grown large and fat in the dense elemental energy around East End.
Very soon, a high and vaguely blue fire was roaring in the furnace and Sam began to put the scarlet ingots into the heat to melt. Unfortunately, it was difficult to tell how close these ingots were to melting due to their newfound coloration, but Sam’s eyes had grown used to the different visual cues of heat to try and predict when it would happen.
Not that it really mattered. The damn things were so strong that Sam had to pump the bellow and push up the temperature in order to get them to soften and melt. And in the case of this metal that had drunk blood and dined on sunlight, Sam wasn’t afraid of ruining the metal by pushing it to a temperature that was too high. If anything, the additional heat would strengthen it.
As his eyes followed the softening forms of the ingots in the furnace, he picked up his heavy hammer from the table and prepared to work. Sam had considered using a mold to form the desired weapon, but he ultimately decided that it would be better to hammer it into shape. And his reasoning was rather simplistic: Sam simply liked the sensation of hammering.
Nothing gave him a better read on the development of the story within the metal than the reverberation through his palm.
So while keeping an eye on the temperature of the ingots still in the furnace, Sam began to hammer the first pieces of metal. His blows started high above his head and smashed downward like a meteor falling to Earth, slowly flattening the two ingots that Sam had pulled out. Some people speculated that there was value in hammering in a specific pattern, and that pattern would then be imbued into the weapon. Of course, Sam agreed that this was a case. And that a pattern was worth pursuing.
But he didn’t know a good pattern for this metal. Or rather, Sam didn’t know THE pattern. For something to truly matter, nothing could simply be lazily supplied. Reality had the natural advantage that any coincidence could be supplied to an instance because that coincidence was true.
Details in stories needed to be much more sparingly added.
Perhaps paradoxically, Sam let his attention spread out. It didn’t waver, but it didn’t bother so much about the specifics of where he hammered. Instead, Sam listened to the clear noise of the noise of his heavy hammer smashing against the heated metal. Rather than coming with a pattern prepared, Sam listened.
The primal portion of the human brain was an old hand at picking a pattern out of random noises, after all. And then when the human mind empowered by the System heard and believed, with enough weight that belief became true. That was an image.
Sometimes, the noise would just be right, so Sam followed his instinct and stopped hammering that portion. But sometimes there would be an off note. At that point, Sam pushed the partially heated metal back into the furnace for a few minutes and then continued to hammer until the noise rang true. In Sam’s experience, nothing was more important than purity of purpose. Staying true to the goal of creating a weapon to slay ogres was all that Sam’s hammer sought to create.
It was for those noises that Sam listened most closely. With his spread out attention, that goal of killing remained omnipresent. But of course, this weapon was truly meant to guard Earth. Those two truths twined slowly together as Sam worked.
It quickly became clear that the form of the weapon would be a shield. Something large to deflect and thin to cut.
Ingot by scarlet ingot, Sam pulled out more and more of the metal and added it to the growing whole. Spread out to be thin and strong, the weapon grew to the size of a dinner table. It was somewhat difficult to maneuver around its growing size, but Sam was careful to be sure the interior was completely perfect before he moved outward. Circling slowly around it and expanding the weapon, soon a gleaming scarlet shield was laying on the worktable in front of Sam.
Once the relatively simple portion of creating the weapon itself was done, Sam toiled for an almost equal amount of time creating a handle for it. Although the handle would eventually be wrapped in leather, the first iteration of the handle was just a cold cylinder of metal. Shaping the metal, Sam could see his own face reflected in the handle. To his own eyes, Sam’s countenance looked warped into a demon’s.
Chuckling, Sam attached the handle to the shield. He used some fire-based Skills he had obtained to heat the metal around the attachment point and hammered the handle down. Then he sat back on his heels and considered.
Just as quickly as he began, Sam stopped moving completely. His hammer was lowered. The fire cooled as Sam remained transfixed in his study of the shield. The sun had completely crossed the sky and was now setting. Sam sent a message and then considered the creation he had made.
Perhaps three meters long and two wide, the scarlet shield was an impressive creation. Even someone like Dozer would have a problem managing the sheer size of this weapon. The final shape ended up being a hexagon, with six rough sides that hadn’t exactly been sharpened to a razor-thin blade but were still quite sharp enough that Sam regarded them warily. More than sharp enough to cut through flesh.
Sam’s eyes glimmered as night fell and left him completely alone with the shield. He didn’t bother to examine it yet, because it wasn’t yet finished. The metal had been given a story, but that was only half the battle. Instead of simply waiting, Sam reexamined every inch, seeking the weak point. When he couldn’t find one, he began his search again. When he searched for flaws three times without any results, Sam began using his sensitive fingers, pouring over every inch of the scarlet steel.
It was about an hour before dawn before the man who would use this weapon showed up.
Obyrn Myyr, former Ironfist of the West in the Ogre world and now the ruler of the Ogre Holy Land that rapidly grew from defections from the entrenched powers of the Ogre World, walked over the hill and down the thin path that required him to carefully place his large feet one in front of the other. When he arrived, he smiled down at the large weapon. Although it would be difficult for any human to wield, the huge shield was perfect for the newly appointed leader of Donnyton’s Ogre Raid Group.
Behind Obyrn Myyr was his assistant Duaal, who was dragging behind him a beaten and bound prisoner. Sam’s lip twisted in distaste as he saw it, but its not like he was guiltless, he was the one that had recommended this course of action.
After all, it was the best way to ensure the weapon came out the way they wanted. The story was already in the metal, they just needed to make the weapon awaken to its true story.
“The timing?” Obyrn rumbled as he picked up the scarlet shield. He passed it from one had to another, then moved it through the air while twisting his arm. From his sparkling eyes, it was clear he enjoyed the weight of it in his hand.
“Right when dawn comes over the ridge,” Sam replied. Then the four people turned toward the horizon and waited. Time slowly slipped past under their watchful eyes. Only Obyrn continued to be active, playing with his new shield. When twilight came, Obyrn approached the unconscious ogre with the shield raised, but Sam shook his head. Then Sam showed the two ogres where to position the body.
“You’ll want to cut with the edge of the sun.” Sam scratched his beard. “As if the cause of death isn’t the shield, but the light of the sun that strikes the blow. Of course, the sunlight will flow downward in a line, but you will only be an edge. So you need to be the blade hidden in the light, moving perpendicular with the spread of sunlight. Get it?”
Obyrn scratched his own scraggly beard he grew to mimic the human style. Bad beards had abruptly become weirdly fashionable for the ogres of the Ogre Holy Land. Sam sighed and waved his hand helplessly. Then he turned to Duaal. “Just make sure to hold him still. He will start to struggle once… the operation starts, and the effect will be diminished if the cut is diverted from where the light is touching.”
The operation… which is basically a brutally torturous execution, Sam thought tiredly.
When the sun finally came, Sam gave the signal and Obyrn began to slowly cut into the captured ogre’s neck. As Sam expected, the sharp prospect of death quickly woke up the captured ogre and caused him to struggle. But Obyrn moved the deadly edge of the shield with an intense and dispassionate control that reminded Sam of Regina Northwind.
This ogre cut not a hair more than what was necessary in the moment.
During the whole of the process, Sam didn’t look away. He could sense something changing with the shield. And he didn’t miss the fact that not a drop of blood dripped down off the shield onto the dried ground below.
All healthy babies are born thirsty, Sam thought darkly.
And of course, by the time the bloody business concluded and the ogre ceased struggling, Obyrn had calmly sliced all the way through the other ogre’s neck. Then Obyrn examined the shield, unleashed a booming laugh, and then shared the details of his creation with Sam.
Thirsting Bloodsteel Buckler Shield (L) Lvl 81: A shield forged to protect by drinking the blood of ogres. Worked by a master craftsman for a very specific role, and the purity of purpose greatly enhances its effects. When facing ogres, Strength, Agility, Reaction, and Willpower +40. Will not break underneath the attack of an ogre. Bloody Shield IV. Blood Drinker IV. For the Defense of Earth V.
Bloody Dawn Shield IV: Forged of White Phosphorus Steel and soaked in ogre blood for seven dawns, the shield has greatly strengthened its structural integrity. Endurance and Resistance +40.
Blood Drinker IV: Wearer will experience a minute of a berserk status when the weapon drinks the blood of ogres. During that time, the wearer will experience a 1% increase in Status for each kill, up to a cap of 40%. Each additional kill will refresh the one-minute duration. Health Regeneration will be doubled in the berserk state.
For the Defense of Earth V: Forged by a master craftsman to be held by a defector from the enemy, it was an act of faith to give this weapon away. Yet there is value to that faith, especially when the survival of a world is on the line. Wearer gains the Skill “Defender of Earth ®”. Skill slightly increases the effectiveness of all Skills when they are used to defend Earth. Skill Level will rise to equal the number of foes that the wearer faces, capped at the highest Skill Level the wearer currently possesses.
“I suppose it will have to do,” Sam said while coughing into his hand to hide his pleased smile.