Chapter 3 Part 9

Commander Vulac directed Lavia, as a ragling, to earn her remaining keep with the Lanh by following Clemnilshala on her errand. A priestess made sure to remind her that going along could mean that the Abbess would become pleased should the exile stay amongst the party and go on to the sea with them. This same priestess took the arm of her similarly golden-eyed sister and they stalked along toward the nearest holy place to board for the day. Lavia scampered along and clung to Clemnilshala’s path unwaveringly. The sights and sounds of the city frightened her, she wished to tend near the sloped walls and perhaps disappear into the shadows. Clemnilshala’s path, however, took them far and away from the wall and into the very heart of Khalenglough the great. Lavia stood with awe at the flow of magma kept safely behind an ornate grate of iron.

Clemnilshala was met by another forge worker who brought news that one of the Four Brothers Forges was too dangerous to operate while the chimney flue was clogged up. What else was there to do but send someone up to clean out the soot plug. The worker looked to Lavia and beckoned her over, she gave her a flexible chain hood and a stone cart to hold onto.

“Here, lass, these ol’ forges dunnae like it when soot gets into her guts and fires. Try tae catch anything that falls from that hole up there” She said with a smile, straightening her own helmet before bringing Clemnilshala a ‘clean kit’ and sending the other eynnil up a ladder into the flue.

Clemnilshala used carved footholds in the stone and wedged and wriggled herself up the flue shaft. By thunder it was stinky in here, some poor animal must have gotten caught in sticky wet soot. The burning ash must have collected underneath its body. She pressed her back to the opposite wall of the passage when her tired arms needed a rest from pulling her body up all the way. Looking up it was blacker than night, not a bad spot to take a little nap, she’d pondered. Instead, she muttered to herself about how this was a complete soot plug alright. She drew a chisel and a hammer to begin breaking apart what she expected to be a brittle chunk that had been baked and dried on the bottom like a jelly pie.

Lavia couldn’t stand to look up all that way and instead began to strike a conversation with a human forge technician, who was missing three teeth on his left side. He gave big open grins and made it impossible to not look at the lost space of his mouth.

“What do you know about her?” Asked Lavia, pointing upward.

“Well, I know fthat she don’t take a shine tew folk like yew . I don’t think I’fve efver seen her just let one-a yous a task in all my time in fthese forges.” He replied, carting chips of metal ore, he went on and on about how Clemnilshala was once in the same lesson group as his two children. By the time his little ones finished their lesson books and were promoted to the next class, she was partly through the second chapter. He laughed and laughed.

Clemnilshala could hear them talking through the rumble and rush of magma flowering in the mountain’s veins creating plentiful resources to be mined and forged once this soot plug was dealt with. She had no time to make out what they were saying just below her when she banished the evil thought to spit down the forge and hope it hits something fun. It ceased to matter further when she prodded the blockage with the chisel and found something far more interesting than the gossip on the ground below. It was soft, viscous even, and dripped down her chisel, then over her hand, it flowed lazily down the wall behind her and soaked into her hair and warmed her scalp. Though her head began to ache, something about this vile-smelling sludge was familiar to her body. Her skin irritated without gloves to protect her hands. The cuticles around her fingernails flared through her mist of sweat. She wedged herself with her legs in a more comfortable position, her tail waving back and forth to maintain balance, and put the hammer into the cradle created by her lap like this. She took her trusty knife and pressed it into the soft pliable, mass. It seemed to shudder, a vibration rushed through the blade, then the handle.

“<<What in the name of this mountain are you?>>” she asked aloud to no one’s ear. She raised her bare hand to touch it again, pull it, stretch it, and squish it between her fingers. An odd thought flooded her inner mind. Some repeating phrase about an ultimate truth that all things must learn. Two words: Ultimate Truth. They echoed and rang like the song of the evening bells from another lifetime long past, stuck in her head with little hope of escaping. So what did she do but whistle a working tune over and over the inaudible sound of bells inside her ears until the thoughts grew quieter. She put her knife away and used her hands to pull the substance apart and drop it into her lap atop her hammer and chisel. It was as relenting as warmed taffy candy when she peeled it from the walls. Its heat permeated the leather over her legs and created an almost acres scent the more she piled on. She could feel her markings there inflame like a bad injury, she racked her mind for where she had experienced this feeling before now. Her legs grew slightly weaker the longer she touched it. Craning her head she alerted Lavia to the incoming drop of this refuse.

“——I’ve heard about those lessons lately, is she not the best mountain scout there is?” Lavia’s form buckled as the heavy soot plug careened down the flue shaft and landed in her transport cart with a loud rattle and plopping sound. It stretched the entire way, thing strings and thread caught billows of air in the forge network.

“I dunnae about fthe scouts, the lessons my little ones were in wifth her was tew learn tew learn tew read and write.” He replied looking at the tarry substance. “Awl I know is fthat she can read like a natural but once yew put a pen in her hand, she’ll freeze.”

“Why?” Lavia stifled her breath and resettled her posture against the cart. He simply shrugged before another call from further down the corridor called him away from that spot.

Up in the flue, Clemnilshala continued to scratch and dig away at the viscous goo that rendered this forge unusable. The more she tore away at it the stretchier it got and the worse it smelled. She drove her thumbs into its depth and by thunder she broke through to a rain of melted snow water and fresh air that poured over her head, anointing her in this heart of the mountain. With the end in sight, she let the snow water soak through her gear as she stretched the blockage apart and crawled upward with a brush and chisel. She dropped charred stones and globbed handfuls of the plug downward, she even began to sing songs that rattled down the flue into Lavia’s ears.

Pieces of coal and black refuse and other debris landed squarely in the pile of tarry jelly. A stray thread touched her hand, a warmth filled her up to her cheeks, tears welled in her eyes, this warmth how soothing it was. So much so that she plunged her hands into the cart and toyed with the stretchy mass, why its scent was like sweet candy, it danced between her fingers in ribbons and her inner heart sang sweet tunes about justice and truth. That her reward would come to her, that she only had to be a little more patient, walk a little further, work a little harder. A golden light came in a haze over the sludge. So close, her focus was broken by a pair of cart-pulling swine and their boar-head shiftling handler. Her focus was further crushed by one very filthy Clemnilshala clattering down the flue, coated head to hoof in tarry goo.

“Ain’t like any lampblack I ever seen” she cringed, sniffing her wrists and shuddering. “But the forge is more important. Want tae help get ‘er all lit up again? I’ll even let ye play on the bellows”

“What’s going to happen to the stuff you dropped?” Lavia followed once more around a winding metal catwalk that served as a bridge over the magma rivers. All the while worrying they would hurt themselves.

“Mm, it’ll probably be tested for good minerals, maybe mixed intae glass or kilned intae pottery. If it cannae be used, then who knows?” She spoke over the groaning melting crucible being swayed and mixed. Lavia went quiet for a moment, wondering how anyone could honestly stand this heat day in and day out. They came to a stone building inside of which was the southern bellows in a row.

“Ahhh she’s all clear! Need help tae get her goin?” The dwarves who worked and seemed to live here already had chains and straps at the ready. Clemnilshala was hitched up to the bellows’ paddles like a hauling horse decorated in harnesses. She took leather straps into her hands and snapped them like reins.

“Alright old friend, if I can get Rigmol tae sing songs with me in Folruth’s stead then yoo an I can dance” she bent at the knees and jumped to grab the massive handle using her sheer weight to force the air into the fire of the forge. She jumped and pulled the chains getting a swinging mechanism going before hooking the ancient weights down to keep it going without her. She mentioned something to the other forge workers, begging them to ‘lose’ her for a while, to ‘lose’ Lavia as well should anyone come asking.

Clemnilshala held her fingers to her nose and looked to Lavia. She mentioned that they were both stinky and urged the ragling to join her on a trip to someplace else.

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