“Get down here,” Flare said.
I put the sticky-fingers charm back on my hands and climbed down the side of the building. Flare walked over to me, grabbed a hand, and inspected my charm before I had a chance to dispel it. Then she let go of my hand and said, “Do you know who I am?”
I shook my head. I knew she was a traveller, and one who knew a lot, but I hadn’t heard who she was.
“I’m a witch,” she said. “Follow if you want, but know that.”
I nodded. She was a witch. I didn’t know much about what that meant, but the way she talked to the forgemaster told me that witches were phenomenally important. The charm she’d trapped me in told me that witches knew magic. The way my heart thundered in my chest and my mouth refused to make words told me that witches had presence, or Flare did at least.
She turned to keep walking with the forgemaster, and I scurried to catch up.
“You were saying?” the forgemaster said.
“What have the sigils been doing?” Flare asked. “Have they changed at all?”
The forgemaster shook her head. “No, they’ve all seemed fine. They glow with a stable light, none have been scratched or marred, I doubt anything is wrong there.”
Flare asked another question about the sigils, this one involving technical details I didn’t understand. The sigils carved into the great forge took years of dedicated, careful study to understand, and I hadn’t had the time for that sort of thing, helping my father with the house. The conversation around sigils stretched on, and we began to near the forge itself.
“How about fuel? What fuels it?” Flare asked.
“The flame itself comes from the earth, a flammable gas of some sort. We bolster its heat with coal,” the forgemaster said, “But the coal only gets changed every so often.”
Flare nodded. “The sigils on the inside,” she said, and the forgemaster nodded.
We arrived. Flare looked up at the great forge, her expression a cold consideration. Not taking her eyes off it, she stretched a hand out and began to twist a charm onto it. But she didn’t stop with the one, which was already a complex one I didn’t recognize. She kept twisting, layering a second charm atop the first.
That stunned me. Was that possible? I’d put charms together before, but putting them on top of each other, I didn’t know what that would do, or how it would work. It seemed impossible to hold a charm’s form while in that soft limbo of it being cast and then continuing to hold it there while beginning a second one.
Flare pushed the two charms outwards, and together they released a pulse of magic that took the heat-shimmer around the forge and made it bend and twist and ripple for just a moment. Then she asked, “Can I see inside?”
The forgemaster nodded, and walked to the door that dwarfed even her, right at the front of the forge. Flare raised a hand, and brought down from the empty air something which was almost the chill charm I’d seen the forgekeepers use to keep themselves from catching fire. Almost, but slightly changed. An extra slash through the glyph, an extra swirl at the end.
Then my whole body shivered, and I realized what had been different. She’d modified the charm to cover both of us. I took that as tacit permission, and took my first steps into the forge behind her.
Awe crackled through my body. The great forge’s inside was something incredible, a work of engineering that dwarfed anything else. We stood on a metal lip on the bottom story, but I could see balcony after balcony all the way up the forge, workers maintaining glyphs on the upper floors or handling coal. Every balcony had a trim of coal, barely visible through the flames, that forced the flames to rise further all the way up the structure. Even the bottom floor had a ring of coal lit aflame.
I could feel wind rushing from one of the sigils beside us, and see more sigils of that sort gleaming all around the floors. Sigils which directed the fires inwards, focusing them into the central channel. The massive archways in the forge, then, served as vents for that air after the fire had superheated it, so that it could blast out and cover the whole town.
Then the fire flickered and sputtered for a moment, and I saw the giant hole in the center of the floor, the source of the flame. A great, gaping maw in the earth, descending into darkness, jagged stone teeth and a fiery roar. Then the flame caught again and hid it from view.
Flare walked out to the edge of the metal lip we were on, and began to inspect the coal. She would pick up a chunk, examine it, and then place it carefully in the spot where she left it. A forgekeeper with a long, sturdy-looking metal rake walked by, shifting the coal with the rake so as to keep it burning steadily on all sides. Flare allowed the forgekeeper to pass by her, raking through the coal that was under inspection, before finally going back to work.
I watched her as closely as I could, but the flame was mesmerizing. It was easy to lose yourself in the blanket of heat, watching the flame lick in directions at random, seeing embers and smoke roar up off of it, listening to the crackling noise’s peace. If I could, I would stay here all day, simply watching the place dance around me, the forgekeepers in a maintenance-waltz around this tamed monster.
Flare stood. She walked back over to the forgekeeper. “I know what the problem is,” she said, “But it’s a difficult one.”
The forgekeeper’s expression was pained. “Can you fix it?” she asked.
Flare nodded. “I can,” she said. “First, though, what will you give me in return?”
The forgemaster blinked. “Well, there are all sorts of items in the market the harvesters came back with. I can give you those. I’m afraid food is a little tighter, but I’m sure we can provide provisions–”
Flare cut her off with a gaze. Flare said, “As I told the child, I am a witch. I will stay in town for three days. Bring me something proper before then, and I will repair your forge for you. Otherwise, I will have to leave you to your own devices, and hope you survive.”
The forgemaster looked pained. I thought. Something proper. Something proper. I left and headed back to my house. Something proper, to save my home.