Cinder Nimblestrike tried not to stare excitedly at the door to the forge. She ought to focus on the turret she was building. Not that she needed much attention for the turret. She’d built a hundred of these -- Cinder could do it in her sleep.
Around the cavernous forge, she and the other dwarven smiths of the Blazing Brew Clan worked, yelling orders to the apprentices and sweating in the heat from the molten rivers of lava that warmed their furnaces. Ordinarily, Forgemaster Thumir would be observing the chaos -- but today he attended the Emberlord. The Emberlord and his guests, who would be here shortly. Cinder’s hands jittered with excitement. She hadn’t slept, working on her special project. She’d done it -- finished just this morning. Now everyone would see what she could do -- that she lived up to the Nimblestrike name.
She glanced again at the door and her impatience was finally rewarded. The Emberlord arrived, attended by Forgemaster Thumir, two visiting Forgemasters and followed by a procession of more visiting dignitaries. One Forgemaster was an ancient dwarf, his hair and beard ash white and braided with golden beads. The golden medallion was fashioned in the shape of a falling star. He represented the Star Iron Clan. The other was a younger robust dwarf. Emblazoned on her turquoise tunic was the double-headed axe of the Stout Axe Clan. Cinder realized that she was staring -- that she’d jumped up from her workstation in excitement.
Get a hold of yourself, she thought. You need to be calm. You need to be serious.
Forgemaster Thumir began the tour of the Blazing Brew forge. He showed off their decorative metal gates and window shutters, the practical tankards and tools, and finally -- finally -- reached the weapons and engines of war that Cinder worked on.
“And here,” said Thumir. “Is our youngest journeyman. Cinder Nimblestrike--” he emphasized her last name just slightly, “--achieved the rank some years ago and I’ve no doubt she’ll be our youngest smith and mastersmith before long. The turrets she makes are like nothing else, for through a clever mechanism here,” he demonstrated on one of the turrets Cinder had finished yesterday. “The machine can be set and directed without the need for a soldier to operate it.” The old dwarf from Iron Star nodded his aloof approval, but the Stout Axe bent down to get a closer look at Cinder’s work. The glance she gave Cinder was appraising and thoughtful.
“This is good work, Journeyman Cinder. Well done,” said the Stout Axe.
“Thank you, ma’am. However,” said Cinder. “I’ve done better.” She managed to keep the shaking excitement out of her voice. Mostly. The Emberlord raised a questioning eyebrow to Thumir, whose bushy brows came together like thunder clouds.
“Have you now, lass?” asked the Stout Axe, amused.
“I do,” said Cinder, firmly. “It’s my pet project.”
“Cinder, we don’t have time right now for your flights of fancy,” growled Thumir.
“It’s not a flight of fancy,” said Cinder. “It’s finished! It’ll be the grandest invention of the Blazing Brews since the work of Delvur Nimblestrike.”
“You know, girl,” said the Star Iron dwarf, chuckling. “Every clan has someone calling themselves ‘Nimblestrike’. But I’ve never heard of someone trying to best him. That’s quite the claim.”
“I’m his direct descendant,” said Cinder, proudly. “He’s my great-great-great-great-grandfather.” The delegates looked to the Emberlord and Thumir for confirmation. With resignation, Thumir nodded.
“Got his nose for trouble too,” he muttered, glaring daggers at Cinder.
“Well then,” said the Stout Axe. “Let’s see this invention.” Her voice was indulgent, but Cinder did not care -- as long as they saw it, it didn’t matter what they thought right now. No one seeing her work could fail to grasp the magnitude of what she’d done.
“Right this way,” said Cinder. She started off through the forge, nearly skipping, without looking back to see if anyone was following. At the other end of the noisy room, Cinder paused before the dusty and singed red curtain that was the only door to her private work alcove -- her right as a journeyman smith. Like a showman in a play, she turned to her small audience and dragged the curtain aside with a flourish. Sitting in her workshop, filling the cramped space, was a steel dragon. Its eyes were dull, but the light from the forge caught on the polished metal plates of its scales, gleaming. The Iron Star huffed in surprise, the eyes of the Stout Axe widened, and Cinder grinned. Thumir cast his eyes up to the roof, praying for patience.
“What is it?” asked the Iron Star.
“It’s a dragon,” said Cinder. He snorted. “I can see that, child. Is it art?”
“No,” said Cinder, surprised that her purpose was not immediately apparent. Surely they could see what she’d done. “It’s a dragon -- a real dragon -- it will fly and breathe fire beside the Blazing Brews.”
“Preposterous!” said the Iron Star. The Stout Axe shook her head, examining the details on the paper-thin metal sheets that made the wings. “The craftsmanship is superb… but what makes you think it will ever be more than metal?” The Emberlord was listening too, intrigued.
“It just needs an eldurstar,” said Cinder, “Then it will fly.” For a moment, her audience was astounded and then the Iron Star snorted and the Stout Axe chuckled. “Just an eldurstar?” she asked. The Emberlord sighed, disappointed, and Cinder watched their faces lose interest. The Blazing Brew Clan had exactly one eldurstar -- a jewel beyond all price. It was installed in the great plaza of Firefalls, held in the hand of a statue. It was not the possession of any one dwarf, but belonged to all of the Blazing Brews.
“It’s lovely work,” said the Emberlord, tone conciliatory. “Let’s put it on display at the feast tonight. With your permission, of course, Journeyman Cinder?”
“On display?” asked Cinder, incredulous. “But sir -- my lord -- it’s not just pretty. With the eldurstar, it will fly!”
“That’s enough, Cinder,” said Thumir.
“If you’ll just let me--”
“Cinder!” barked Thumir. “Thank the Emberlord and his guests!” Cinder’s head dropped and she stared at her feet. “Thank you, my lord. Forgemasters.”
“My apologies,” said Thumir, indicating that they should go back into the forge. “She’s mostly brilliant and only slightly delusional, I assure you. And still young. We’ve delayed our tour and I’m sure you all wish to prepare for the feast tonight. I’ll rejoin you in a moment.” The delegates moved on, the Stout Axe glancing back once to the dragon and to Cinder, who still stood with her head bowed.
“Don’t be too hard on her,” said the Emberlord as he followed his guests. When they were out of earshot, Thumir turned to Cinder, his eyes ablaze with wroth.
“What, by the rivers of fire, were you thinking?”
“It would work,” she said, bewildered and still staring at her boots. Why couldn’t they see it?
“You don’t know that!” fumed Thumir. “And putting an eldurstar in that thing would make it worth more than the entire Blazing Brew Clan put together. I’ll have you making bolts and gathering scrap if you keep this nonsense up!” Cinder looked up and Thumir scratched his beard, his temper cooling. “It’s a fine ambition, lass, in some ways. It’s good to dream. But obsession…” He shook his head. “Focus on your turret work. There’s honor in doing a thing well. Why do you have to be the next coming of Delvur to be happy? Don’t waste your time on overreaching. Stick to what you know.”
Later that evening, Cinder stood concealed inside a cave tunnel, looking out to the statue of Aurochs -- the god of the Blazing Brew Clan -- and the eldurstar grapsed in its stone hand. A half dozen guards were on duty in the square. Ordinarily this plaza -- the center of Firefalls -- was bustling at this hour. Tonight it was empty of citizens. Everyone was at the Emberlord’s feast, hosting the dwarves from Iron Star and Stout Axe.
“Please forgive me,” Cinder muttered, by way of prayer to Aurochs, just as her turret -- placed facing a wall on the opposite side of the square -- began to fire. The sharp reports echoed through the cave and, just as she’d hoped, five of the six guards went to investigate.
When they were almost at the turret, Cinder darted from her hiding place and headed straight towards the statue. She sprinted, a hammer in each hand. She made it halfway across the space before the remaining guard noticed her. He cried out, leveling his axe and running to intercept her. Cinder swung one hammer, knocking his weapon aside, and the other she threw -- at the statue. The hammer spun over and over in the air, arcing towards the hand holding the eldurstar. It smashed into the sculpture, shattering the hand and sending fragments of stone flying into the air. Like a comet blazing across the sky, the eldurstar fell to earth right at Cinder’s feet. The guard stared at her, mouth fallen open. The young smith stooped and picked up the eldurstar, and then sprinted away, back across the plaza.
Now it was a race.
Cinder had mapped the quickest route to the Great Hall earlier in the day and ran full tilt, hoping her path was clear. At her heels raced the guards, yelling curses and questions and commands. She ignored them all, thankful for their heavy clanking armor as she careened through stone corridors. She burst into the Great Hall. Songs and laughter filled the air, along with the scent of spices and spilled brew. On the far end, at the high table, sat the Emberlord and the Forgemasters. To her left, displayed on a dias, was some of the finest work of the Blazing Brew smiths. Including Cinder’s dragon.
She didn’t slow one bit, didn’t hesitate. She leapt over tables, shoving dwarves and dishes alike out of her way, the eldurstar held aloft in one hand. Cinder reached her dragon and opened up its metal ribcage. Then she thrust the eldurstar into the heart of her dragon. The guards, close behind, tackled her. She fell hard on the stone floor under a fully armored dwarf.
“Get off!” she said. “I need to see this! Move! Move!”
“Have you gone mad?” asked the guard, struggling to pin her down. Cinder elbowed him to no avail.
“Ahh… you should look at this…” said another guard.
“GET OFF!” yelled Cinder. She couldn’t miss it!
“Let her go!” The Emberlord’s voice cut through the chaotic noise of the hall. Cinder struggled to her feet. The metal ribs and scales of the dragon had closed around the eldurstar, hiding it from her sight -- but the ethereal glow of the treasure leaked out between the steel, brighter than it should have been. Like sunlight. As Cinder looked up to the dragon’s eyes, they came alive -- glowing suddenly gold. The scales shifted as the once lifeless dragon looked around the room, glimmering gaze settling on Cinder -- who felt the faintest touch of thought from it.
“Fly!” whispered Cinder, fiercely, to her creation. The dragon spread its wings with a sound like a dozen swords swinging. It launched itself into the air, soaring over a sea of dwarven faces. As it circled, its metal throat produced a plume of bright, white hot fire. The dwarves shouted, reaching for axes or for their mugs of brew -- according to their temperaments. Salvo Fireflinger leaped onto a table, dancing in delight. Cinder Nimblestrike followed her dragon’s swooping, blazing progress -- prouder than she’d ever been in all her young life. She didn’t notice that the Emberlord had come to stand beside her.
“Well, Journeyman Cinder. What can we expect from you beyond this wonder? What will you do now that you’ve made a dragon?” Cinder, without taking her eyes from her dragon and grinning from ear to ear, said:
“Make a bigger one.”