Arkh brought his hammer down hard, sending small flakes of red-hot steel flying in all directions. He lifted his arm, and brought the hammer down again, and again, and again, his heart quickening and his breath growing shallow. When his arm could no longer take the burn, he turned, and dunked the metal blade in the water at his side, instantly filling the forge with hissing steam.
“So what’s your plan then, lad?” Albin’s deep voice cut through the forge. He was sitting a few feet away, working some strips of leather into a grip, which would later become the hilt for the blade Arkh was working on. Their Nameless Beastman friend had requested a new claymore, after his last one had been badly dulled and nicked during the Slive attack—with how valiantly he’d fought for them over the last few weeks, the two smiths were more than eager to oblige.
Arkh pulled the blade out of the water and began inspecting it, checking it for imperfections and testing its sharpness. “I’m honestly not sure yet. Obviously, I’m not interested in participating, but this isn’t exactly the kind of thing I can just say ‘no’ to.” Satisfied, he set the blade down on a metal table and went looking for a file set.
“She’s got something important to say, I’d wager.” Albin called through the forge.
Files in hand, Arkh walked back into the main area, and pulled up a chair. “What do you mean?” He tested to make sure the blade was cool enough to handle, then began filing the tang down into a usable size.
“Well,” the Dwarf continued, “I’ had a few encounters with her before, and I’ve physically spoken to her a coupla times now. And she ain’t the kinda lass to send messengers, ya know?” Sensing that Arkh did not, in fact, know, he continued. “She does ’er own dirty work, lad. And that…” he gazed knowingly at the sword at Arkh’s hip, “…be some damned dirty work.”
Arkh followed Albin’s gaze to the sword, hanging loosely in his belt, following their failed attempt to seal it inside the scabbard. “You’re saying this isn’t something she can do on her own?”
Albin nodded softly, as he began wrapping the leather around the hilt. “Aye, I think so.” He returned to focusing on his work.
Arkh lifted his gaze back up to Albin. “But why me, then? I’m just a Cartographer.”
Without looking up, Albin shrugged. “Wrong place, wrong time, lad.”
“Trinkenkampf!” Arkh declared.
Albin raised an eyebrow. “Gesundheit.”
Arkh scowled at the Dwarf. “The Trinkenkampf were a tribe of Dragonkin that used to live in the area where Haven is now, before it was founded by the Silverclaws. They were famous for their alcohol tolerance, their fighting ability, and their tendency to combine the two.”
Albin considered the thought for a moment, then let loose a loud belly laugh. “Ah, it’s perfect!”
The two of them studied the newly-minted stein while Albin put the finishing touches on his armor. It was a moment before either of them noticed the silence, and another moment before Arkh finally spoke. “I’m going to cooperate with her.”
Albin tugged at a strap he’d just riveted, to test its strength. “That so?”
Arkh nodded, setting the stein down on the table between them. “Mhm. But not until she tells me why.”
“Why what, lad?”
“Why she needs to talk to Grakkas. You said she hasn’t shared much information with you guys, beyond what you absolutely need to know.” Albin nodded in silent affirmation, as Arkh continued. “Well that’s not my style. I’m in this for the long haul, but I’m not about to work for someone who won’t talk openly with me.” He pointed towards his Junior Cartographer badge, now dirty and dented from weeks of heavy travel. “I am a scholar, after all. Information’s my life’s blood.”
Albin extracted himself from his work, taking a moment to size up Arkh. “And you’re sure that’s wise?”
Arkh frowned a bit as he grabbed the stein, examining his handiwork. After a brief moment, he shrugged. “Probably not. But I’m gonna make sure she knows that if she wants my help, she can’t treat me like one of her minions.”
Mock offense painted on his face, Albin growled at his Orc friend. “What’cha saying about us, lad?”
Arkh chuckled as he stood, placing the stein in a small linen sack. “I’m saying that you’re damned good at saving my ass, and you’d best get used to doing it. I’m not done getting you guys in trouble.”