The open doors and windows of Tork’s workshop glowed deep into the night. His journeymen and apprentices brought their meals and bedrolls, though they did not plan on using the latter. Smoke billowed from the chimneys and the sound of hammers and blades on steel echoed, along with the occasional curse as a bolt slipped or a finger was crushed.
In the center of the shop, where the domed ceiling was highest, Tork’s crew swarmed over the hulking steel frame of a weapon that could stand against the Hellbourne’s new butchers. They were fitting the massive steam tank to its back; men shouted and chains rattled through pulleys bolted to the rafters as the steel cylinder swayed into place.
When Tork had shown the design to King Jeraziah and his generals, his accompanying speech had been short: “The Hellbourne are building machines to harvest blood and souls. We’ll send them something that has neither.”
Jeraziah and his council had approved. But they had not seen the prints for a separate contraption Tork now spread across his desk and studied alone for the hundredth time, searching for any flaw that would cause the slightest failure.
No, he thought. There would be no slight setbacks here. Any mistake would result in utter, catastrophic failure.
An apprentice came through the stacks of kegs that served as Tork’s office walls. “Someone here to see you, sir.”
The Engineer lifted the heavy gears on the edges of his design, letting it roll upon itself. “Don’t call me sir; my parents were married. Who is it?”
“Some beggar, said you’re expecting him. Want me to chuck him out?”
“Bring him in,” Tork said.
Moments later a scrawny, filthy man with wild orange and yellow hair stood before the workbench surveying the oil-stained dirt floor and dusty lanterns. “Sterile conditions here, eh?”
The man had a lilting accent. Tork placed his homeland somewhere north of the Forest of Caldavar, where rain fell on the hills year-round and the peat bogs swallowed entire towns. He lit another cigar from the stub of the previous and eyed the vagrant through the smoke. “Expert on cleanliness, are you?”
“Oh, I’m clean. My skin may be covered in His soil, but my spirit is spotless.”
Tork plucked a flake of tobacco from his tongue and was glad for it; it hid his grimace at the presence of zealotry. He said, “Are you here to spout off or volunteer?”
“I submit entirely to what He asks of me.”
Tork frowned, his patience grown short. “So which is it?”
“I’m here for the suit,” the man said. He extended his hand. “Caustor the Pyromancer. Well, former Pyromancer. Our great Sol, in his infinite wisdom, has seen fit to deny me the Pyromancer’s command over fire. Hence my state of disarray; the Sacred Order has no use for me, nor does anyone else, it seems. I’m like a cold campfire. Just woke up one morning and poof! The warmth was gone.” Caustor looked troubled. “You know, I ought to use a word other than poof—speaks of fire and smoke, that word, and here I am with a distinct lack of either. How about splash? Like a dousing of water upon my blazing soul. Splash, it was gone.”
He nodded and grinned at Tork, who actually smiled back. Some of his stress over the suit’s design had lifted, for if it did have any flaws, at least he’d never have to listen to this man again.