[Beleth looking bored] [Andre looking proud of his graffiti]

Interludes »

BLOOD HAMMER (part 1 of 2)

Cayenne: I can't believe we're stuck outside. We could be here for hours!

Calliope: Or days. It depends on the size of the invading angel force, and their aggression.

Cayenne: I can't stay out here for days!

Calliope: Don't act so flustered! There is a silver lining to our current situation.

Cayenne: What's that?

Calliope: You now have time to listen to the first twenty iterations of "The Sleeping Star"! This angel attack is a blessing in disguise!

Cayenne: More like a CURSE. I don't want to hear twenty versions of the same story! I don't even want to hear two versions of it!

Calliope: What do you suggest to pass the time, then?

Cayenne: I will tell a story. A good one. And it's true, unlike the ones you've been trying to get me to listen to.

Calliope: How do you know it's true?

Cayenne: Because... I was the main character. It happened to me.

Calliope: I am interested already! What is it called?

Cayenne: I call this story...

Cayenne: Blood Hammer.

Cayenne: A few years ago, I was outside the shop chopping some wood for Lionel, as I always do, when he called me back into the shop.

Lionel: Cayenne! My most trusted and skilled assistant. Would you forgive me if I troubled you for a bit of your time?

Cayenne: Of course. I am actually free at the moment, for I have finished all of the chores I have volunteered for.

Lionel: Your motivation and efficiency never fail to impress me!

Cayenne: Indeed. But this is not about me. This is about you. What did you need me to do?

Lionel: A flea market has just arrived in Citrico, and I am much too busy to see if it holds anything worthwhile for me, as a blacksmith. If I entrust you with this bag of money, will you go in my place?

Cayenne: I would be happy to!

Lionel: I knew I could count on you. While you're out there, feel free to treat yourself to something there with whatever money is left over.

Cayenne: You got it, Mr. L!

Cayenne: Although I wasn't obligated to do this chore for Lionel, I did it anyway. I had known of the Citrico Flea Market for quite some time but I had never been able to go. This chore was the perfect opportunity for me to finally see it. Plus, if Lionel was letting me buy something for myself with his money, that was even better.

Cayenne: At that moment, all I knew was happiness. I had my whole life ahead of me, and my future was filled with infinity opportunities. If only I hadn't been so greedy. If only I could have been content with just knowing about the flea market. Maybe then, things would have been different.

Cayenne: But how could I have known that what I would find in the flea market would change my life forever, for the worse?

Cayenne: I made my way to the flea market at a leisurely pace. I wasn't about to run or take a wagon or anything like that because I didn't want to spend any of Lionel's money until I absolutely had to, because that meant that when it came time for me to buy something for myself there would be more money left over. And besides, the flea market was going to be in our part of town for a couple of days, so I had plenty of time to get there and look around.

Cayenne: The sun was setting when I finally made it to the entrance of the flea market. Many of the vendors were packing up for the day, but there were still a good amount that intended to stay open through the night.

Cayenne: I passed a couple of vendors that had been selling candy and toys and puzzles. Stuff you would buy for a kid. I remember looking at them and thinking that I was much too mature to purchase one for myself. I would give anything to have realized then that a kid's toy would have been much more preferable than the alternative that awaited me.

Cayenne: After walking through the after-hours flea market vendor for a few minutes, I decided to stop by a blacksmith supply tent and do some window shopping. The quality of the tools inside looked pretty good and I knew Lionel would have been happy with anything I decided to get him, because like I mentioned before, he trusted my judgment. If only I had known that my judgment that night would ruin my life...

Cayenne: The owner of the shop, who I will call Stan to protect his anonymity, was a pretty nice guy. He answered all of my questions I had about the various tools and supplies he had throughout the tent. I had noticed some good-looking coal in the corner that I suspected was magic, and he told me that indeed it was, and he complimented me on my ability to pick out such a fine item. He wanted a hundred coins for all of it, and it would have included a wagon to carry them back to Lionel, but I am a pretty good haggler and I was able to get the price down to forty coins.

Cayenne: Stan thanked me for his business and I thanked him for being such a good sport when it comes to haggling, because I knew that not every merchant appreciates the skill required to haggle. A lot of people think that haggling is just offering a really low price, but that's not all of it. Haggling requires that you be able to predict the emotions and thoughts of the merchant you're haggling with, so it's more of an art form.

Cayenne: I loaded the magic coal into the wagon and was about to leave the tent to deliver it to Lionel when I noticed something I hadn't noticed before when I came in: a plain-looking, ordinary blacksmith hammer, hanging up on the wall behind the counter where I had previously haggled with Stan.

Cayenne: I asked Stan if I could see it, and that's when a cold chill blew through the tent and extinguished the lanterns that had been hung up to light the tent.

Stan: Oh... you want to see that hammer, do you?

Cayenne: It looks a mighty fine hammer, sir. May I hold it?

Stan: Heh heh. That's not a question I can answer. Try, and see if you can.

Cayenne: Okay.

Cayenne: As I took the hammer off the wall and held it in my hands, I inspected it. For the most part, it looked like a normal drop-forged two-and-a-half pound blacksmith hammer. I was familiar with the design and the use, because I had been Lionel's favorite apprentice for years up to that point. I took a few practice swings with the hammer. It felt good to swing. I wanted to know who made it.

Cayenne: Could you tell me who made this hammer? The quality is superb.

Stan: I couldn't. I've had that hammer longer than I can remember. Strange, but I don't seem to remember there being a time where I didn't have it.

Stan: If you want it, it'll be ten coins. What do you say?

Cayenne: I wanted to tell him of course I wanted the hammer, but I hesitated. Ten coins for a hammer as good as this? There had to be something off about it. I inspected the hammer again, looking for any sign of damage, or anything that would make me regret buying it. I noticed that on the bottom of the handle there was an engraving, almost like a creator's signature. I couldn't make it out, because it looked like someone had attempted to scratch out the name but had only halfway succeeded.

Cayenne: That wasn't really what I would call damage, though, as it was merely cosmetic. Besides, two-and-a-half pound blacksmith hammers aren't exactly made to look and stay pretty. The ones I used when working for Lionel would always get covered in soot and burn marks, which is why we're always replacing them.

Cayenne: I say yes, sir. I do want this hammer. Perhaps, though, you would take five coins for it?

Stan: I'm powerless against your fine haggling skills, lad. Five coins it is.

Cayenne: And so, with the mysterious hammer in hand and supply of coal in my wagon, I left the flea market.

Cayenne: It took me longer to get to Lionel than it did to get to the flea market in the first place, because although the coal was in a wagon, it's still pretty heavy. Not one to give up easily, however, I resolved to not rest until I had delivered the wagon with the coal in addition to the leftover money to Lionel.

Cayenne: While I was walking back to Lionel's shop I couldn't help but keep looking at the hammer I had purchased earlier at the flea market. With each additional inspection I became more and more sure that this was a work of art. A masterpiece. I didn't think there was any other hammer as fine as the one I now owned.

Cayenne: I can't believe it... what a good hammer. And for only five coins? I impress myself sometimes!

Cayenne: After walking for about twenty minutes, I set the wagon down by the side of the road. I knew it was twenty minutes because whenever I'm doing something repetitive and want to pass the time more quickly, I count up in my head starting from one. I'm pretty good at counting up one number every second, and when I stopped pulling the wagon and set it down by the side of the road I was around 1200 seconds, which is twenty times sixty.

Cayenne: Anyway, with the coal-filled wagon at the side of the road I turned my attention to my new, well, old hammer, but new to me, and stared at it.

Cayenne: There was something strange about it. It didn't look like it did when I had initially purchased it back at the flea market. Was it just the moonlight giving it an odd hue? I thought so at the time. I know better, now.

Cayenne: The masterfully-crafted wood handle was no longer light golden brown. It was almost black! And the hefty, drop-forged two-and-a-half pound steel head was no longer shiny and flawless, but dull and pitted, as if it had been used since the beginning of time.

Cayenne: At first I was angry. Really angry. Did Stan rip me off? Did he enchant the hammer in order to make it look better than it was so that I would feel compelled to buy it?

Cayenne: No, that wasn't the case, I told myself.

Cayenne: No, that can't be it. I'm an expert at gauging the quality of items.

Cayenne: Even though the hammer had changed in appearance, it still didn't change the way I felt about it. It still felt good in my hands. It still felt like the best hammer ever. There was something odd about it, for sure, but it wasn't a low-quality hammer.

Cayenne: I decided to test it, just to be sure.

Cayenne: I simply must strike an object with this hammer in order to assuage (which is a word that means to make something less bad) my fear that it may not be truly high-quality. Forgive me for my break, Lionel, but this will only take a moment.

Cayenne: I hastily built myself a small forge out of some stones that were laying around by the road, and for fuel I used a couple pieces of the magic coal I had initially purchased for Lionel. I would tell him that I used the coal because I was sure he would understand, especially once he saw the craftsmanship of the hammer I bought. He always complimented me on my keen eye and attention to detail, and often consults with me before making any large purchases or additions to his shop.

Cayenne: Of course, that was before the hammer.

Cayenne: Once the forge was hot enough, I took the miniature anvil I always carry in my backpack out and set it up, along with a set of rusted tools I also carry in my backpack.

Cayenne: My intention was to heat the rusted tools up in the furnace until they glowed and then hit them with my hammer, which would knock the rust off to reveal relatively new and clean metal underneath. This is a relatively common procedure that blacksmiths must learn to master if they're to be acknowledged as serious by their peers, so of course I had already mastered it long ago. I just had the rusty tools on me in case I ran into some downtime that I could fill with productivity.

Cayenne: As I waited for the tools to heat up in the forge, I thought I felt the hammer move ever so slightly in my hand. Fascinated, I held it up to the fire in order to get a better look at it.

Cayenne: The two-and-a-half-pound drop-forged steel head, which like I said earlier was dull and pitted in the moonlight, had flecks of reddish metal throughout it! They glowed faintly, as if they were live embers, embedded in the metal. The wooden handle also had the same red flecks, but they were more bands than they were flecks. They almost resembled the veins of some otherworldly creature, and they pulsed with a faint crimson light in a rhythmic fashion.

Cayenne: I became frightened and wanted to throw the hammer into the ocean, and as I readied my arm to throw it as hard as I could, I heard a voice. More of a whisper, really, right next to my ear.


Cayenne: Was that the hammer speaking to me? If so, how did it know my name? After a moment of just standing there with the hammer in my hand, I realized I was being ridiculous. So what if the hammer changed appearance in the moonlight? Hammers can't talk. The whisper I had heard was probably just my more logical inner-self attempting to reason with me since I was in a state of momentary panic.

Cayenne: The rusted tools were glowing now from the heat. Those magic coals sure did their job, and they did it well. I took one of the tools off the furnace with my tongs, which I also kept in my backpack at all times for times like this, and put it on the anvil.

Cayenne: As my arm rose up and prepared to strike the red-hot rusted tool, I realized I wasn't the one moving my arm! It was moving on its own!