When I went back to the marketplace, the crowd around Flare’s little place on the ground had vanished. I could guess what happened. The offers weren’t enough for Flare.
“Would you take me?” I asked.
Flare looked up at me. She didn’t immediately shake her head. I pressed on with my idea.
“Me, in exchange for saving the town. I would travel with you, and you could teach me what you knew. If you wanted to. In exchange, you would fix our forge.”
She continued to stare. I didn’t have anything else to say, really. I’d already worn through what little glimmerings of a plan I’d been able to weave together. But the silence stretched, and I tried to fill it.
“You’re a witch. And you travel the world, but you travel it alone. And I think, it might be valuable to you to have someone to teach. Or to travel with you. And I want, Scorched Rock is the only world I know, right now. So if I could get you to fix it, to save it from the slow death it’s been suffering. I don’t know. But I would travel with you.”
Flare nodded, and pushed herself to her feet. A thrill ran through me, running from my fingertips up through my mind and down to the soles of my feet. My hands clenched and unclenched. I had a sudden urge to move, to dance, to grin.
Instead, I just followed Flare as she walked towards the forge. It felt unceremonious, somehow. Saving everyone I’d ever known felt like it should carry more weight. People should be told, there should be cheering, there should be something to mirror my heart. Flare cast the charm to protect us from the heat, as though it was something she did every day. We entered, without asking permission from anyone.
Flare raised one hand, and rudely pulled another charm into being. I could maybe half-recognize noise on one side of it, and silence on the other. It was a combination which made no sense to me. How could a charm be both?
She whistled, and while the whistle was no louder than it would ordinarily be, it somehow cut through every other noise in the forge and made itself heard. Curious heads turned towards us all around the forge. The forgemaster came jogging over.
“What?” the forgemaster asked.
“I’m ready to fix the forge now,” Flare responded, and the forgemaster’s eyes crept down to me. I couldn’t resist the urge to smile. The forgemaster gave me a respectful nod.
“What’s the problem, then?” the forgemaster asked. “And, if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to know how you could figure out something in a few moments of inspection when none of us have been able to find a single flaw in nearly a decade of work.”
Flare looked at her, then she said, “What do you know of monsters?”
The forgemaster didn’t respond.
“I thought so. Information about monsters never travels far or preserves well. If you’ve heard anything, I expect you’ve heard half-baked superstitions at best.”
The forgemaster scowled. “There’s no monster in this forge,” she said. She seemed to take it as an insult, even.
“There’s the other thing. Information about monsters paints them as obvious threats. Bloodthirsty. That’s rarely true,” Flare said, and as she did, she reached down and, seemingly at random, picked up a piece of coal. Without another word, she walked out of the forge. I jogged to catch up to her. The forgemaster walked to catch up to me.
Outside, Flare sat down on her little rug, reached into her coat, and pulled out a pot with a stand, a small tin, and a flask of water. The forgemaster stared. Flare poured water into the pot, placed the pot on the stand, and opened the tin. The tin held a small fire charm. The water began to boil. A vein stood out on the forgemaster’s head.
When the water bubbled, the forgemaster did too. “What are you doing?” she roared.
Instead of saying anything, Flare dropped the piece of coal into the pot. “Testing something,” she said, and as she did, the water stopped boiling. The forgemaster’s face creased in confusion. Flare gestured to the now-still water. “There’s your problem.”
Flare reached in and plucked the coal out, tossing it to the forgemaster. The water began to bubble again. The forgemaster’s confusion creased further. Flare began to speak. “Gauldite. Fool’s Pyre. A monster which disguises itself as coal, and sneaks its way into great congregations of the stuff. It feeds off of heat, and is the source of the forge’s flame weakening. You’ve been infested.”
The forgemaster began to speak, but Flare cut her off. “Touch each piece of coal in your forge. Throw out any that are cold. The forge should go back to normal. Inspect any new coal you bring in, ensure you don’t get infested again.” The forgemaster opened her mouth to speak, then closed it, then opened it, then turned and walked back into the forge. Flare packed up her things.
I said, “That rock was a monster?”
Flare turned to look at me. “Yes,” she said. “Witches know monsters.” That was all the explanation I got. Then a strange look glinted in Flare’s eye, and she said, “What was the charm you used to scale that building? I’d never seen it before.”
I showed her the sticky-fingers charm. She listened to my explanation in silence, letting me talk about the kitchens I’d watched up close, and the way I’d seen caramel made, and the way I’d wondered if I could use a charm to get something caramel-like to happen.
Flare turned and cast it without a second thought, then dispelled it. “Interesting,” she said.
A wave of heat shoved past me, and I stumbled. I looked, and behind me was a stunned forgekeeper with a wheelbarrow of coal. Behind them was the forge, as I’d never seen it before. I could see tongues of flame dancing up out the top of the forge into the starry sky, a bright orange glow suffusing the streets around us, the roar of the forge escaping for the first time I’d ever heard.
The forgemaster, hands coated in soot, came dashing out of the forge, but Flare was already walking away. She gestured for me to follow. I did.
Behind us, I could hear the forgemaster bellowing thanks. Flare didn’t even break her stride. Instead, she said to me, “You should say goodbye to your father.”