Cold filled the streets of the Grand Metropolis, but the wind was still and no snow fell from the bright blue sky overhead. The day itself felt laconic and lazy, a feeling which infected the people of Terminus. Shopkeepers manned their counters and workers went about their daily tasks, but all of it without customary vigor. People stayed inside where they could, sipping warm tea or cocoa, curled up next to a fire or brazier, letting chores go undone. Students at the Sapientia or the Arcanum fought the urge to skip classes while their professors fought the same; younger ones faked illnesses or begged their parents to stay home rather than go to their own studies at one of the multitudinous small schools throughout the city. Even the famously strict business managers of the Commercium turned away from their coin-counting to look at the blue skies outside, putting off their accounting and transactions to daydream. It was just one of those days.
Hidden deep in the city, south of the center and near one of the wide canals that cut through Terminus, some fire yet burned and muscles yet strained. The malaise seemed to have escaped the little nook in one of the industrial districts, an open lot where a large six-wheeled truck was parked. The dark grey machine was old but sturdy and pristine; work beast though it was, it had been beautifully maintained for over a decade before finding its way into the hands of Keydis Lysistrata, and she had done well to continue its care. The spiky-haired laicar woman sat in the bed of the truck now, watching over the black-feathered enlil in front of her. The rear of the truck was a fully-equipped smithy, with two forges of different sizes, two anvils, quenching tanks of different sizes, compartments for raw metals, pins, flux, acid, the works. The name of the truck, of the smithy itself, was painted down both sides: Ore Else.
Spurred on by Keydis, the young enlil hammered away at hot steel. Nyct had all but forced Keydis to accept an apprentice, in exchange for a sample of vitatium lateris. Rather, in exchange for a discount on the vitatium. Keydis wasn't thrilled with the arrangement but after accepting it, she was determined to beat some basics into the enlil.
Nyct was a tiny thing, and Keydis wasn't sure how old the youth was. Younger than Keydis, certainly; Nyct only came up to her chin. Even though her adoptive uncle, the man who raised her, was an enlil, Keydis hadn't spent enough time around the avian people to guess ages. Nyct could have been a budding teen or on the cusp of adulthood and Keydis wouldn't be able to tell. Making matters worse, Nyct seemed to be underfed and although Keydis couldn't get a straight answer, she was sure the enlil had been living on the street. Keydis never asked how Nyct had managed to gain a piece of vitatium out of the fear she'd find out it was stolen, and she'd be honor-bound to return it.
Keydis had helped collect outlaws who'd stolen less.
The brunette hadn't dressed for the forge and was still adorned in armor and her side cloak. Her anvil-axe was propped up nearby, giving her shoulders a rest. Nyct, meanwhile, was lighter-dressed. Instead of a coat like Keydis typically wore, an apron of deep black with gold trim, red ribbon around the neck. Only black feathers covered Nyct's shoulders and upper arms, with oversized gloves reaching halfway to the enlil's elbow. Those gloves were covered in unique gadgetry, including a gauge that measured the temperature of whatever was directly in front of it. Nyct never seemed to wear anything under the apron, but had loose white leather pants below the waist. The pants only reached past the youth's knees, ending in red trim, but Nyct also had tall and over-sized boots to make up the difference. The boots were yellow near the bottom turning to red further up; simple leather ties bound the boots to the bottoms of the pants; Nyct only wore them at the forge, preferring to walk bare-talon otherwise.
Keydis had discovered early on that Nyct was an engineer, with no blacksmithing skill at all, and she had laughed at the sight of the enlil's tools. The hammer Nyct was using had an oversized head, with one side short but broad; the other side was longer and tapered to a smaller head. Most of the head was a rough, dark color like unforged iron, while the ends had a brighter steel color. The handle of the hammer was long, with the head held in place by short, sturdy pins above and below, but not long enough for Keydis to consider it a sledgehammer. It had little cartoonish designs etched into it -- Nyct insisted that someone else had done those, but never explained who. Despite the odd look, it actually seemed effective. Nyct's arms were tiny, but with that hammer, the enlil could still move metal.
Nyct looked over at Keydis, no obvious expression but red eyes full of disdain. "How long am I supposed to do this? There's no point to it."
Keydis looked back at Nyct, smirking slightly. "It's only been a half hour at the most. Don't tell me you're getting tired."
"I am!" Now Nyct stopped hammering and turned to glare at Keydis full on. "You're just trying to annoy me so I'll back out of the deal myself."
That brought a laugh from Keydis. "If you can't handle this much, maybe you should give up on being a smith. Build yourself a gadget to do it for you." The brunette brushed her fingers through her spiky hair. The warmth of the forge had completely dispelled the day's cold, and she was sweating faintly. "You wanted to learn from me, so you're going to learn how I do things. Blacksmithing isn't about one hammer blow, it's not about ten, or even a hundred. It's about not stopping. There's all sorts of ways to keep yourself going, but unless you want to show me how far you can push yourself first, I'm not going to show you.
"You asked for this, remember."
Nyct huffed. "You're wasting my time on purpose." It was spoken quietly, and although her apprentice didn't seem convinced that Keydis was sincere, the enlil turned and returned to hammering. The piece had dulled from bright orange to a dull red. Keydis opened her mouth to speak, but Nyct frowned at the temperature gauge and spoke first, "It's too cold. I have to swap." The bar Nyct was working on went into the forge and then a similar bar was pulled out of the second forge.
"Good, but learn to use your own eyes," Keydis chided. "You'll fuck up the metal if you hammer it cold."
"You'll get cracks and whatever you make will just snap."
While Nyct continued hammering, Keydis looked at the new ring given to her by the shady chemist, Naevius: red-tinted golden auritium under a cracked shell of obsidian. It was enchanted, able to protect the wearer's hand from heat while instilling heat in whatever was held. Keydis hadn't the slightest idea how it worked, whether it only worked on metal, how long it would be good for, any of that. Events had prevented her from asking, and she hadn't seen any sign of Naevius since then. Still, for now at least, it did what she wanted it to do. It took getting used to, so she hadn't worked the vitatium, yet, other than testing to be sure it worked on the rare and tough metal.
Another half hour passed, with Keydis idly experimenting with heating different metal samples with the ring while Nyct hammered away. Finally, the hammer dropped to the anvil and stayed there. "This is a waste of time," Nyct said again, groaning.
"Quit whining. I already said I had to see how far you can go."
Nyct clutched at one arm and turned one of those famous enlil glares on Keydis. "Who cares!?"
Keydis responded with a rap of her knuckles against Nyct's skull. "I care. Now I know when you're actually tired and when you're faking!" Keydis laughed at the incredulous look that flashed on Nyct's face. "Easy, brat, that's not the only reason. I also wanted to see how far you could push the metal, how consistent your strikes are, if you know any tricks to make things easier on yourself. You should be fuckin' grateful I'm taking this seriously, you know."
"This is what you call serious?" Nyct asked, pouting. "What's the deal, then? Do I pass?"
"Not a test, dumbass," Keydis replied. With a pair of tongs, she grabbed the glowing orange piece of steel from the forge. The other piece Nyct had been working on was still resting on the anvil. "But this is: what do you know about heat treating?"
Nyct scowled. "It makes metal harder, of course."
"No, quenching makes it harder. Quenching is just a part of it all. You can also heat treat to make things softer or more flexible, you know."
"Splitting hairs, obviously a blacksmith is talking about hardening when talking about heat treating!"
Keydis frowned, then plunged the glowing bar of metal into a tank of oil, sending up smoke and splattering drops. Nyct jumped back before Keydis lifted the metal from the oil. A fireball erupted and shot skyward, flames continuing to lick at the metal. Casually, Keydis put a lid over the tank to smother the fire there and then took a deep breath, blowing the flames off of the metal itself. Still smoking, she dropped it onto the anvil with the other piece of metal. "Wrong, but let's focus on the quench. Why's it become harder? You're into science and numbers and shit, I bet you know this."
The enlil looked confused and stammered for a moment before admitting, "I never thought about why."
Keydis looked just as surprised as Nyct was embarrassed. "Really? Huh. In that case, lock both of your metal bars into that vice, and break off a piece." Nyct did so, without any complaints for once, and Keydis held up the two pieces, showing what was inside of both. "See the grain structure? This is the stuff I expect you to know, science and all. When you get it hot and then let it cool, it starts to look like this. But quenching skips a few steps, and forces it into a tight, brittle grain like this. If you want things done right, it takes a lot of extra heat treating to get the perfect combination."
Turning to one of the containers nearby, Keydis pulled out a wire-wrapped basket-hilt. The blade was snapped cleanly. "This is bigatium, and it's not perfect, but look at how smooth the grain structure is. This sword was a schiavona, not a rapier, so it needed to be sturdy more than flexible. Never meant to hold the weight of a human body, of course. Like I said, not perfect, but you want your final product to look something like this. Hard enough to sharpen, flexible enough that it won't shatter the first time it hits something hard. Lots more important to have a sword you can keep using."
Nyct took it all in solemnly; this was what the kid was after, real information, details to examine and digest. "Heating makes it soft, quenching makes it hard, letting it do its own thing makes it… less hard."
"Normalizing and annealing are your other heat-treating buzz words. Whenever you have the opportunity, you should normalize your metal multiple times before you really begin forging, and do it some more before quenching. It removes some or all of that shitty grain structure that might be there. All you have to do to normalize is bring up to heat, then swing around a piece of near-molten metal to air-cool it. Then bring it up to heat and do it again a few more times. It really evens out your grain structure so you don't have hard spots and soft spots." Keydis paused and then explained, "Annealing makes metal softer, more flexible. You need something to bend and return to true, you'll probably want some annealing treatment before hardening."
"So what's different about terra regia?" Nyct asked.
Keydis quickly brushed that aside. "Figure out iron and steel first, then we'll talk about the good stuff. It all builds up, you can't skip out on learning any of it." Teaching the basics was helping reinforce some of the lessons in Keydis, as well. She had put her all into Promoveo and Vallum, but she wondered if she had skimped on any of the details in the weapons she had worked on since then. She looked down at the scales of armor on her chest, wondering how tight their grain structure actually looked. She wanted to believe it was good, but perhaps it was time to plan out a new set of armor and make a lesson of it. Something that covered more of her left arm….
Before that, she had to forge all her various scraps of vitatium into a usable billet. Unlike Nyct, she welcomed the heat, looked forward to it. Instead of sapping her energy, it filled her with vigor, and she hadn't been doing enough of it since leaving Aridus. Keydis loosened her cloak and dropped it to one side. "Here, let me show you how it's done for a bit," Keydis said, slipping one of the bars of metal back into the forge. "Pay attention to how I use the hammer, I promise it's not a mistake. See if you can figure out the meaning before I tell you."