Chapter 7 - Cornered
It was clear the moment I stepped into the shop that it was the source of the ceremonial gear packed in the alley. From the old-style forge and smelter, it was clear that this was a blackmith’s place of business. There was newer equipment as well; sharpeners, laser cutters for custom work, cryonic storage units for more efficient cooling, and even a battered pair of universal builder’s tools laying on a counter in the back.
The owner of the shop closed the door behind me, chuckling. “Bit of a mob, eh? That’s how they chased off the last three guys. ”
“Arc?” I asked, glancing around at the numerous weapons hanging on the walls.
“Never really got his name. He was a big guy, didn’t talk much, had a yulius with him. Cat talked enough for both of them.”
That certainly didn’t sound like Arc, though it did sound vaguely familiar. I tried to remember where I’d encountered a winged talking cat for a few moments before noticing the smith’s sharpening stone.
“Say,” I asked, reaching for Glint, “While I’m here, could you sharpen my sword?”
“Hmm? Oh, yeah. Fully outfitted for most metals. Not much of a call for it, though … an axe here, a steak knife there.”
I handed him Glint. “This is Glint. It’s been passed down through my family for ages. It’s already saved my life a few times, but it’s badly in need of sharpening.”
He barely spared Glint a glance, saying, “Well … that’s great, but wouldn’t you rather have one of these?” He spread his arm, indicating a fine selection of shiny new swords. “All enchanted with reflection spells, perfect for fighting witches.”
I let my head hit the counter with a groan.
He chuckled, and patted me on the shoulder. “Just kidding, my friend. Let me take a look at Glint here.”
He drew the sword and held it up to the light. He slowly twisted the blade in his hand for a few moments, his eyes looking along the blade’s edge. “Hmm.”
“What?” I asked, worried.
“It’s nothing. The balance is very slightly off, but I think it was intentionally done when the weapon was made. Most likely it was done to compensate for some small flaw the original owner had while fighting.”
“Excuse me?” I said, a hint of indignation in my voice. I didn’t want to think of Mick Sakamota (my ancestor, not my Glyche buddy) as flawed.
He shook his head, smiling. “Er, didn’t mean it like that. It’s actually quite common. He may have held his blade at a slightly odd angle, or was missing a finger. Heck, I’ve even heard of swords being made for guys with extra fingers. I’d imagine your fighting style’s adapted itself to the blade, so it’s not really a problem. Now, let’s see about a little maintenance.”
He poured some kind of oil on what could laughably be called Glint’s ‘edge’ and took it to his sharpening wheel. Despite looking like an old-fashioned grindstone, he was able to set it spinning with a press of a button.
Intriuged, I watched as he pressed Glint to the stone. To my surprise, however, he stopped only a few moments later and peered at the blade, his eyes narrowing until they were only open the barest of cracks.
“Is something wrong?”
“Give me just a sec.” the smith said, carrying Glint over to a large metal anvil.
As he reached for a large hammer, I asked worriedly, “Um … what are you gonna do?”
“I’ve got a hunch. Don’t worry; if I’m wrong and I break it, I can reforge it for you, and it’ll be as good as new.” As he grasped the hammer, he said, “However, I’ve got the feeling-”
He hit the blade as hard as he could. My heart leapt into my throat, but to my amazement, the hammer didn’t even leave a dent in my blade.
Shaking his head, he handed me the blade. “I was afraid of that. I’m sorry; I can’t sharpen this sword.”
“What? Why not?”
“It’s synchrome. Stuff supposedly can keep an edge after years of constant use. How old is this, anyway?”
“At least three-thousand years, according to my father.” I said.
“Yeah, that explains it. See, synchrome supposedly never loses its edge. Over time, exposed to the magnetic poles and other elements, however, it begins to attract particles … other metals, dust, the like. It never completely loses magnetism, no matter how many times it hits another object. A few hits in battle, and the metals fuse over the synchrome, effectively dulling the blade.”
“I see. It’s edge isn’t lost; just covered with junk.” I said, regarding the weapon with new respect. “What can I do?”
“Well, that’s a tough one. I know yhe Knights of the Star use synchrome for armor plating. Bullet proof and energy-repellent, you know. Not sure if they use it for weapons, but it’d be worth asking.”
“Couldn’t hurt to ask, I suppose.” I bowed my head at the smith. “Thank you, sir. You’ve been a great help.”
He nodded, saying, “No problem, friend. Stop by if you need any non-synchrome metalwork done. We do functional and ceremonial, and I love a good custom order.”
I opened the front door and found myself face to face with a crowd. For a moment, words escaped me; I had forgotten about them. Part of me was certain they’d simply moved on already. Just as I considered turning around and reentering the shop, a dozen strong hands slammed the door shut. This time, apparently, there would be no escape.
“All right, all right! That’s enough now!” A portly man made his way to the front and started shaking my hand. “Mayor Bartelsby, at your service! I just want to say that I’m sorry for your less-than-stellar welcome to our town. I mean really; the great Jimmy Sakamota a demon?”
“You know me?” I said.
The mayor chuckled. “Of course! Jimmy Olsen Sakamota, the samurai of the Saybaro who helped save our beloved princess!”
I was just starting to feel good about myself when the mayor added, “We’re still showing the film in our cinema! A true hero of-”
“I’m not a hero.” I said, hiding my annoyance at the term. “Just a member of the Royal Guard.”
“Of course, of course.” Mayor Bartelsby said. “Still,, for one who has shown such skill in aiding those in need to be shunned by those in desperate need of such assistance ... well, it’s disgraceful.”
I looked over the crowd, only to see a sea of hopeful faces. Unable to resist the urge to sigh, I said, “I suppose I am.”
“The dragonslayer is here to help us!” Mayor Bartelsby said to the crowd.
The entire crowd broke into applause, many wearing looks of great relief. Soon the air was filled with a mishmash of people clapping and talking.
“All right!” I shouted, raising a hand to stop the din. “First, I need to know the specifics. Exactly what is going on?”
The mayor bobbed his head. “Fair enough, sir knight. There is a tall tower to the east in which lives a witch. She stops by town every so often, and to be fair we’ve gotten on pretty well with her in the past, but lately, she’s become a threat.”
“How so?” I asked.
“Come with me, and I’ll show you. The rest of you go home! And for the love of the Creator, don’t go spreading unfounded rumors!”
As the crowd dispersed in good spirits, the mayor led me to one of the larger reactors near the outskirts of Brigsonstrat. The air was thick with stream, so much so that I could feel it thrumming in my hand. A mere thought would’ve been enough to pull in enough energy for a force edge or push.
I thought the heavy stream energy was just natural crystallic pollution at first, but as we drew near the reactor, I realized it was damaged. Not severely, but it was definitely damaged.
To my surprise, we didn’t stop at that reactor; we passed two more before finally reaching a fourth; all were damaged but none more than the last. It looked as though it exploded, then was been pieced back together by someone with little experience in repairing Rimstakken technology. Streamsmoke hung over the broken reactor like a thick mist, and dark red crystallic was growing out of the cracks in the machine.
“You see the reason for our concern. Over the last few months, we’ve had over a dozen reactors damaged mysteriously. I have eyewitness reports from security guards claiming that the reactors were hit with some kind of energy burst falling from the Eastern sky.”
“That’s hardly proof it was some witch.” I said, though to be honest, I wasn’t sure what could have caused the damage.
“You’re right, of course. There are any number of things that could have caused it, and the attacks weren’t confined to the reactors; the ground east of the city is littered with craters caused by similar blasts. Our technicians believed it might have a technical explanation; something about stream technology and the new converters and whatnot. Of course, that was until a few days ago, when a passing knight informed us that the blasts were magical in nature. After scanning it with his equipment and comparing the flux patterns, he confirmed that it was a witch he had run into recently.”
“This knight.” I said, “His name wouldn’t have been Arc Skylad by any chance.”
The mayor nodded as he wiped the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief. “Aye, it was. Knight of Iniagus, just like you, sir. He left to deal with the problem.”
“Or to go create more.” Seeing Mayor Bartelsby curious look, I shook my head and said, “It’s not important. So what exactly is it you want me to do?”
“Deal with the witch ... without killing her, if possible.!” The mayor’s face went red. “Look, everyone’d panicked, but I’m sure there’s a good explanation for what happened. I’ve met Minnie before, you see.”
“Minnie being the witch?”
“Yessir. Nice lass, just a bit scatter-brained at times. Wouldn’t surprise me if our woes are the result of some project she left simmering. Still, it needs to be addressed, and if there is some malicious intent at work, we would all feel safer knowing one as capable as you is working to rectify the problem. Will you help us?”
Despite the eccentricities of the Brigsonstrat populous, their problem was genuine. If there was some sort of apparatus firing at the city, it was only a matter of time before it deadshot a reactor, the resulting explosion no doubt causing considerable damage and perhaps even triggering a chain reaction that could decimate the city.
“All right.” I said, nodding. “I’ll look into this immediately.”
“Oh, thank you, Sir Knight! Thank you! I’ll spread the news at once!” With that, Mayor Bartelsby departed, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
Well, not completely alone; One poked his head out of my pocket once the mayor departed.
“Guess which witch I’m going to investigate.” I said dryly.
“Eh, I had a feeling. Still, at least they were nice enough to ask, eh?”
I let out a hollow laugh. “I suppose you’re right. We’ll meet up with Terry and figure out how we’re going to handle this.”
“Shouldn’t we head back to the Saybaro? I ain’t doubting your abilities, but I’m sure you’d like some backup against a witch, not to mention the Ascendant.”
“The Ascendant may still be under repairs. For all I know, Bethany herself is under repairs.”
“All the more reason to stop by and have a look.”
I shook my head. “Meryli is already there by now, and she’s a much better Tekker than I. Besides, if that witch really is attacking the stream generators …”
“Yeah, bad news. I get it. Well, it’s your call, man; just let me know what I can do to help.”
The walk back to the park and the following stay while I waited for Terry was rather peaceful; people seemed to be keeping a respectful distance now that I had agreed to help with the witch problem.
Still, after a few hours passed with no Terry, I decided to head back to Jeane’s place to wait for him there, figuring even if I missed him, he’d head back there eventually.
The suns were still high in the sky when I reached Jeane’s house. I hurried up the steps, only to have Terry nearly run into me as he walked out the door. I caught him, saying, “Easy there, soldier!” I admonished, chuckling. “Where you off to in such a hurry?”
What little of his mouth I could see turned red. “I’m sorry, sir! I meant to meet up with you earlier, but-”
I held up a hand to stop him. “It’s fine, Terry. Probably worked out for the best.”
Jeane peered over Terry’s shoulder. “Oh, Mister Sakamota! Sorry for borrowing Terry for so long. If you’re done for the day, might as well get comfortable. I’ll have supper ready in a few minutes.”
“Much appreciated.” I walked inside the house, grateful to be able to sit down for a few minutes. Traysia was at the table, working on some hefty-looking math.
“Hullo, Uncle Jimmy!” She said, giving me a brief smile before continuing her work.
“Really, Traysia!” Her mother said, sounding exasperated, but I said, “It’s okay. I could always use a little more family.”
The little bunny girl smiled at me before returning to her homework.
Terry took a seat beside me. “What did you find out, sir?”
I couldn’t help but let out a sigh. “Looks like the witch thing is a little more serious than we thought. The mayor asked us to look into it.”
Terry nodded. “I suspected as much.”
I gave him an odd look. “You did?”
“It just seems like the sort of thing we’d be getting involved with.”
“Good point.” I conceded, pulling the One doll out of my pocket and setting it on the coffee table.
One hopped out of my hand and walked over to Traysia. After a few moments, he whispered, “Seventeen shards and six flicks.”
Jeane whirled about, her hands on her hips. “No giving her the answers, One!”
I nearly laughed out loud at the guilty look on One’s face. Shaking my head, I said, “So we’ve got to deal with this witch somehow.”
“Hmm. I don’t know much about magic.” Terry admitted. “I mean, you’re the closest thing to a mage I know.”
“I’m a streamer.” I corrected him. “Streaming is to magic what a sledgehammer is to construction.”
One let out an uncomfortable laugh. “Come on, guys; it couldn’t be any worse than the whole dragon thing, right?”
“The dragon was a machine.” I said, “It was masterpiece of engineering and design, but at the end of the day it just tried to crush, burn, and claw you.”
“Good point.” One admitted. “Last time I tangled with a witch, she took away my ability to speak, shrunk me to the size of a cat, then turned Two into a tea cozy.”
I chuckled. “I remember hearing about that. To be fair, you bot called her a dried-up old skank.”
One’s plush cheeks went red. “I told Alan not to print that story.”
“Minnie’s not so bad.” Traysia said without looking up.
“You know her too?” I asked after a stunned pause.
“I’ve seen her a few times.” Traysia replied, not looking up from her homework.
Jeane put her hands on her daughter’s shoulders, saying, “Traysia, where did you see her?”
“At school. She came during Center day to test us out. She was really nice, especially to me.”
Worry filled Jeane’s face. “Why was she nice to you, sweetie?”
“She said I had a lot of light in me, said that I had the makings of a Solist.”
“A light mage.” One said, nodding approvingly.
“She said she’d let me be her apprentice when I got older, if I wanted.” Traysia smiled to herself as she rubbed one of her long furry ears. “She was nice, and very pretty.”
“The Mayor isn’t convinced she’s responsible for the attacks either, at least not intentionally.” I said, rubbing my chin thoughtfully. “He did mention that it was Arc who stirred up the crowd, though.”
“Arc.” Terry said, shaking his head. “Again with Arc. What in Nocturnes is going on with him? I mean, he’s a little-”
“Ahem.” Jeane said, narrowing her eyes at Terry.
“Er, but he’s never been actively working against us.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know why Arc is stirring up trouble, but it seems like she may very well be another victim of circumstance. In any event, I think it’s worth checking out.”
Terry stood up as soon as I did. “I’m ready to leave whenever you are, sir.”
“You won’t be staying for dinner?” Jeane asked as we headed for the door.
I glanced at Terry, who promptly said, “Sir, I’d recommend we set out in the morning; make a fresh start of it. It’ll give Meryli another day to catch up with us too, and-”
“Easy there, Terry.” I said with a laugh. “Far be it from me to turn down another home-cooked meal.”