What He Saw and Heard
The warm, musty room was his home.
Lit only by the glows of multiple forges that dotted the spacious cavern, the armoury was pretty dark. The old Lupe had since then gotten used to it, finding it quite comfortable. His bed and blankets lay in one corner of the room, and his eating table at another. It was a cosy place, and at least there was no heating bill. The forges were up and running every single day. The only way the Lupe could tell that a day had passed was through a large peephole near the main forge that let smoke out and fresh air into the room. He didn’t check much, though: the light of day was painful to his eyes.
The armourer adjusted his seating at the sound of a polite knock, grunting with surprise as a strip of red-hot metal fell from his tongs and dropped into a barrel of dirty water. He quickly fished it out, growling with displeasure at the sizzling, dark slab that emerged.
The Lupe stifled a nasty reply and gave Lord Darigan a hasty bow. The Korbat was huge. His folded wings matched his sweeping robes in every way save for colour, for the membrane was lilac and the cloth was ebony black. His eyes glowed a golden yellow and a smile danced upon his face. Armourer (for he worked in the Citadel Armoury for so long, his name changed to that of his profession) would have smiled at the kind face of his master, but any attempt faded when he saw the shrivelled old hag that stood in Darigan’s shadow.
Though Armourer worked in this hall for most of his life, he never failed to get his paws on gossip. He knew that a few weeks ago the foul Moehog had arrived at the Citadel, growing close to Lord Darigan. It wasn’t the Lupe’s place to suspect anything, his job was to mould and temper metals, but somehow she reminded him of a quiet puppeteer like the travelling ones of his youth, holding and toying with the strings of their hapless marionettes. The strings that he imagined now held Darigan’s limbs.
“How goes your work?” Darigan’s cultured voice came up, slightly hoarse from the smoke of the room.
“Well enough,” the Lupe huffed. “Would prefer better food, though.”
“It shall be done. But, Armourer, I need your assistance. Do you think you can prepare stronger weapons for my troops?”
That was a rhetorical question. It didn’t matter whether he said yes or no, for Darigan’s kindest requests were his most forceful commands. But what really made the Lupe raise his brows was what Lord Darigan implied in that request. It was not his place to ask why Darigan wanted him to develop better, stronger arms and armour for the army, even though he guessed the reason in an instant, and looking at Morguss’ yellowed tusks and slacking, grinning jaw confirmed his thoughts.
Darigan looked relieved, Morguss annoyed, and both became surprised when a figure nearly ripped the door off its hinges. The looming shadow of a Grarrl appeared at the threshold, a Grarrl outfitted in some of the finest armour the armourer had ever made. The Lupe relaxed a bit when Galgarroth stomped towards them, his face determined and bold.
The Lupe liked Galgarroth. He was everything that a second to the lord was supposed to be: brave, strategic, and loyal. He wasn’t like General Kass, another of Darigan’s aides who seemed to have an odd, confused look always plastered upon his face. Whenever Kass came in to have his sword fixed or arrows straightened, he always fiddled with his braids and looked around nervously as if the shadows concealed some dark force that sought to destroy him. The Armourer never understood the wisdom of having someone so weak so close, but again it was not in his place to question the decisions of his superiors and he lived with it.
Galgarroth bowed hastily to his master. “Lord, the troops are ready. They have trained well, but I fear that they might still be in need of some lessons in platoon combat...”
“That is well, my friend. I feel that they will do just fine against Meridell’s pitiful forces. If our reconnaissance was truthful, then the little kingdom should offer little resistance to us.”
“Sir, I feel that it is wise to maintain caution,” Galgarroth warned.
“You dare go against the will of your master?” Morguss’ raspy, high voice accused.
“My friends, please be still. Galgarroth is quite right: his questions and warnings have saved me many times in the past and I am unwilling to let such a valuable resource go idle. Go to General Vex and General Kass and tell them to get ready; we will leave at dawn and do one more scouting mission. Just to be on the safe side.”
Galgarroth grinned. “Yes, Lord Darigan.”
The huge Grarrl turned tail and departed, followed by Morguss and the Korbat. Armourer stood there, not even flicking an interested ear. There would be battle. The Lupe shrugged nonchalantly as if it was the most commonplace thing in the world and continued fashioning the spearhead he was working on.
Darigan asked for new weapons, and the best armourer in the entire Citadel was ready to give it. This spear was not made of simple iron: it was made of steel.
The Lupe turned around for what seemed like the thousandth time that day. His arms were tired; his eyes red and raw from constantly standing close to the main forge, keeping an eye out for the metals that were being smelted within. Every now and then he went to the three new peepholes at the back to gulp some fresh air before returning to his post without a word.
Ever since the war began, broken weapons and dented armour seemed to be coming in daily. There were other forges – communal forges – dotting the Citadel, but his was the best and everyone knew it. While the other ones produced in quantity, he produced in quality. Once upon a time such a thought would have filled Armourer with pride, but now he regretted it. He especially regretted developing steel weapons, as they took longer to reform and make than iron. But the Lupe didn’t complain, he just worked, even when he was called.
The bloodshot, glowing eyes that were once golden looked at him, glaring like a crokabek glares at a tasty morsel of food.
Lord Darigan was not the same.
His robes were tattered along with his wings, and madness seemed to swim in his eyes. His orders were often strange and unnecessary, like when he came to the forge master and demanded that he made an all powerful, magical weapon instead of mundane steel weapons. Of course Armourer was incapable of this, and was relieved when the crazed Korbat returned to him, utterly forgetful of his original request. The Lupe didn’t suffer to remind him.
“Polish the orb! Only you can be trusted with it. I am sure you won’t break it.” The Korbat put such seething stress on ‘break’ that the Lupe knew the consequences of such an action.
He took Darigan’s Orb from the shaking claws and placed it carefully in his own weak limbs. The thing was precious indeed: it was what once made the Darigan lands verdant and beautiful, and as a result was stolen by Meridell to fix their famines and droughts. It was only after working for a few months that he learned this when a high ranking officer decided to gossip with him while waiting for his helmet to be fixed up. Was it then that this orb, this powerful, beautiful orb, was the cause of all of this? Armourer grunted and took out his buffing tools.
While he polished the orb to a mirror-like finish (even though it was already shiny) he felt the power within reach him like the tendrils of a tree’s roots. The power was definitely dimmed: he could feel something obstructing the energy from reaching him, and that blockade was made by Darigan. The insane lord stared at him, enraptured as his orb was buffed and cleaned.
“It is almost time.”
Armourer didn’t flick an ear, even though he heard the voices. Darigan also heard them, he could tell by the twitch in his golden eye.
“You must take the power... bring Meridell to its knees. They were ungrateful... they stole your birthright. Discipline them...”
“Yes...” Darigan murmured.
Armourer felt three presences within the orb, one that filled him with desire for vengeance, another with want, and the last a mixture of both. He would have dropped the orb if it wasn’t for his extreme self-control. It was the orb then, a lightweight, metallic glowing orb with odd lines and runes running across its surface, that corrupted Darigan so.
The Lupe didn’t reveal anything through his body posture. He simply wiped off the buffing fluid with a smoky cloth and gave it back to the Korbat, who snatched it with a feverish haste.
Inwardly the Lupe cringed at the epithet, but on the outside his dirty, pale yellow fur would have been made of stone. All he did was grunt and go back to his work.
The purple Eyrie stepped into the armoury, red eyes flashing.
Armourer turned around, stretching his legs. The war against Meridell was in the past: Darigan had disappeared and was replaced with Lord Kass. The Lupe appreciated the change: the insane Korbat for a less insane Eyrie.
He was not longer a cowardly, worrisome soldier that stood in Darigan’s shadow like the nasty Morguss, who reappeared when Kass took power. There was an aura around him, a charisma that Darigan did not have that made everyone lean in and do everything he said. Kass wanted what was best for his people, and Armourer thought of his intentions to be true. He heard one of Kass’ speeches once, when he came out of the armoury for the first time in a year. Kass was like a beacon of light to a hopeless people. Darigan’s loss left a void that Kass filled easily, and a month or so of peace made everyone relax. Kass kept the armies strong, so Armourer still had a job, but at the same time he kept everyone’s hopes high with his words. Kass told of Darigan Citadel regaining its honour, and though the Lupe didn’t want another war, the way Kass worded it made it seem like it was only for the sake of showing Meridell who was boss. He even appealed to Darigan’s sympathisers by telling them that they would avenge Lord Darigan by doing as he asked. He had the Citadel’s entire support.
Only Galgarroth seemed unwilling.
The Lupe was saddened to hear that the Grarrl disappeared one fine afternoon. Kass spoke that very same day, saying that Galgarroth had chosen his path and sought to find Lord Darigan in the wastes of Meridell. The Citadel mourned the loss of a brave commander.
Armourer turned and greeted Kass with a warmer grunt than usual, walking to the back of the hall to where all the swords and arms he made were kept, hanging on a wall. He took out a curved blade that he had taken special care in tempering, and returned to the Eyrie with it.
“A beautiful blade, worthy of me,” Kass responded, stroking the metal.
The Lupe didn’t respond, but he was pleased with the praise.
Kass raised it and prepared to leave, but stopped before passing through the threshold back into the Citadel. “Thank you, Armourer. Your skills will be needed yet; we will need more weapons.”
“I thought there would be no war,” Armourer rasped, surprised.
A fleeting look of sadness crossed the eyes of Lord Kass. “Meridell has... forced my hand. Their oafish king defied us. I did not wish for it to happen, but it seems like war must be tasted once again. Don’t worry, though, I am an able general. Though Galgarroth is not with us, I promise that my stratagems will protect the citadel from harm.”
The Lupe nodded, wondering if Kass was right. Surely the Eyrie meant well, for they would not have had another war if otherwise. A gleam of green reached Armourer’s eyes and the Lupe spotted something nestled against the down feathers of the Lord’s chest. A little glowing amulet – a turquoise green crystal with a skull covering it and a few equally green feathers – hanging on black twine. Darkness seemed to seep from it, and the familiar voices that the Lupe heard with Darigan’s orb returned to his ears.
Kass saw where his eyes led, cringed and turned, effectively stopping the armourer from continuing his scrutiny. As the Eyrie left in a flurry of feathers, a small wisp of suspicion entered the mind of Armourer, but it was quickly pushed aside. Kass wasn’t crazy... was he?
The hammer fell upon the glowing white metal, sparks flying as it was raised and fell again. Heat seared his paws, but the Lupe was too used to it to mind.
Two beings stood at the door of the armoury, smiling and watching him as he worked on a new, beautiful blade that was a copy of its original.
Galgarroth and Lord Darigan.
Armourer never realized how he was duped by Kass. The Eyrie’s charisma, his change, his everything was caused by the very same three spirits that tapped into Lord Darigan years ago. When Kass was defeated by Meridell and Lord Darigan, they destroyed him in anger. The Three: Ambition, Revenge and Greed, tried to get to Darigan again, but the powerful Korbat refused their call.
And it turned out that Galgarroth was thrown out of the citadel by Kass’ command rather than leave of his own accord. The mighty Grarrl survived the fall by the help of a passing faerie, and returned shortly after Darigan regained control of the citadel. The Lupe didn’t see the battle; he was busy spitting out one weapon every few moments. But he did see the ending, and it filled him with shame to see with eyes cleared of smoke how foul Kass really was.
The metal was shaped perfectly. Armourer dipped it into a barrel of fresh water, listening to the relaxing sounds of sizzling metal as it cooled quickly. If it cooled too fast, it would crack. A crack and the work was ruined. Armourer spent too many days on it to let it be destroyed by a novice’s mistake. A quick dunk was all that was needed.
The sword was lifted out of the water, given a thorough buffing, finished with a purple cloth wrapped around the hilt and then offered one final inspection. Armourer grunted with pleasure as he confirmed its purity, leaving the magnificent blade in Darigan’s claws. It was a work of art, radiating great power, and the Lupe’s chest swelled with pride as he offered it to his redeemed master.
The purple-skinned Korbat grinned.
“A beautiful piece of work. Thank you, Armourer.”
The old Lupe grunted again.
Darigan turned to leave, but then stopped and seemed lost in thought. “I have one last favour to ask of you, my friend.”
The Lupe didn’t wince this time; he knew Darigan’s words to be sincere and true. “Yes?”
The Korbat stretched out a hand. “A suggestion. What should I do with this?” It was Kass’ foul pendant, its glow dim but still there.
Galgarroth recoiled at it, but Armourer stayed his ground, his ears perked with interest. For a few moments there was silence as all eyes stared into the depths of the pendant. Within, murmuring voices hissed and threatened, but they were too soft to make out. Armourer took it and flung the crystal into the forge fire, amused at the angry cries that filled his mind for a few moments before fading. His two guests then saw him take out the damaged, lifeless pendant and fling it out the peephole, into the forests below the floating citadel.
Lord Darigan smiled and folded his arms. “An excellent suggestion.”
They all laughed together.