”So, it’s fairly obvious to me that you’ve received training as an assassin. That gives me a pretty good idea about the kind of throwing daggers you’ll want.” Fimul said as they went back inside the smithy.
“I’m sure Sarfina wouldn’t have brought me here if you didn’t know what you were doing. Nonetheless, run it by me quickly anyway.” Dee requested, more than a little surprised that the dwarf had seen through her that quickly. She didn’t think she had made it as obvious that the dwarf said, but he was right.
Fimul gave a small snort of disdain at the waste of time but complied. “You’ll want most of them to be small and easy to conceal, and you want several of them. Preferably something like that last dagger you threw. You can tell me your preferred shape later, as you all have your own preferences. You’ll also want one larger one to show that you are armed and to work as both deterrence and a distraction. That one should be sturdy enough to be effective in melee. Sheaths for all. You’ll probably want to visit a tailor for proper straps?” He looked at Dee to make sure.
Sarfina replied in her stead. “Yeah, the leather you use is ok for a belt or rough brutes, but a girl requires a softer touch.” Despite trying to distance herself from her family, Sarfina still had some traces of the rich girl in her.
Dee only looked at her with a slightly raised eyebrow. Zabaniya didn’t really make allowances for comfort, so she was used to whatever she got. She wasn’t going to argue against it though if Sarfina decided to splurge on something more comfortable.
“I’ll use the same material as that last dagger. That brings us into the matter of payment. I’m the only one who works with that metal in this smithy, because it requires holy power to use. It’s a custom work that’ll take me a couple of days. A bit more if you want me to use runes on them to enchant them.”
Dwarves were generally less adept at complex magic, though there were exceptions like when working with metal and fire. They had their own system of magical runes though, which was very hard for other races to copy. Several races had their own ways of enchanting weapons, and the dwarves were experts in the field.
“I’ll take care of it.” Sarfina said confidently.
“You know that’s not how this works Faylen. I only accept payment from my actual customer, and I don’t take money anymore. What I want is something that takes something of equal effort from you. I should hasten to point out that I don’t need or want your services as an assassin.” Fimul said with a suborn set in his brows while looking at Dee.
“Come on Fimul. She’s only ten. What do you expect her to be able to do?” Sarfina tried to appeal, without much luck.
Giving it a small thought, an idea occurred to Dee. “Well, I do seem to have talent in alchemy and chemistry. For obvious reasons my current specialty is poisons, but that’s only due to not having much chance to branch out. I’ve been spending time trying to read up on the subject while I was injured, but I haven’t had much chance to test things out yet. I wonder if that might be of some use to you?”
“Really?” Sarfina asked in surprise, though her question was ignored.
Fimul rubbed his beard in thought. “That might actually be more helpful than either of us thought. Follow me.”
He led them into a room on the second floor. The room was filled with alchemical equipment, books and recipes. Most of it had not been touched for months, but they were in good condition if you ignored the dust. It wasn’t high quality equipment, Dee noted with some interest, but much more than one would expect to find in a smithy.
“I didn’t know you guys dabbled in alchemy.” Sarfina said equally surprised.
“We don’t make anything for sale. However, we need some materials in our work. Whenever possible, we’d prefer to make them ourselves, since the recipes are something of a trade secret. However, we only had one guy skilled with this, since the rest of us are too busy trying to master our own craft. That would be ok since we don’t need that many things made, except the old bugger got eaten by a drago-bear two months ago while on a vacation. We haven’t been able to renew our stock since then. If we don’t get someone to help us pretty soon, we’ll run out.” Fimul explained with a frown.
“I think I see where this is going. You want to know if I have the skill to create the materials you need.” Dee said with a smile. This was useful. If she did a good job, he would have befriended a good smith, and might even have an added source of income later on.
“That pretty much sums it up. The other things are secondary, and we could probably make do with alternatives or even buy the stuff elsewhere. There’s one thing that we can’t though.” Fimul’s voice betrayed his hesitation. He wasn’t wild about the idea for several reasons, but it would be very handy if things worked out.
“Well don’t keep me in suspense.” Dee prodded the dwarf to get to it.
“Well, check this recipe out. Is it something within your ability?” Fimul pulled a small stack of papers from a shelf and handed it to Dee. It was a list of ingredients and the method to combine them.
Dee went through them for a couple of minutes, a grin widening as she read on. “I see now why you wouldn’t want this to leak out. Yes, this is something I can manage, assuming you have the materials. I don’t have the faintest idea where to get some of these. I might need a couple of tries to get it right, but this shouldn’t be too hard.”
Fimul let out a sigh of relief. “That’s great. We’d run out of that stuff in a month, and then we’d be in trouble.”
“What do they want?” Croestia asked Dee silently. She had gotten curious after seeing some of the materials.
“If I guess correctly, this is the stuff they use to draw the runes on the items. It’ll work as a conduit for their magic, while the runes then get formed on the surface of the item. It’s what they use for enchantments.” Dee explained. For smiths that used runes, something like this was essential. No wonder Fimul didn’t want to go to a random alchemist to get some more.
“How much time do you need?” Fimul asked with relief written all over his face.
“I can familiarize myself with the recipe while you get me the materials. For the actual process? Assuming I don’t make too many mistakes, I’d say I will be done by the morning. I’ll need to do the whole process in one sitting or the quality will suffer.” Dee replied.
Sarfina wasn’t too happy about it, but consented to allow Dee to stay here and do her work over the night. She realized that it might be difficult to find another way to repay Fimul, and she could also see that Dee was somewhat excited at the prospect. She promised to bring something to eat in a few hours, since their restaurant visit got postponed.
Alchemy was at the same time a very complex and a very simple profession. In essence, you wanted to get the most benefit out of the materials you had on hand. The real issue lied in the huge body of knowledge required. An alchemist was never finished learning new things. You had to know the various effects of millions of plants and their various parts, hundreds and thousands of different methods to process them for maximum effect and the worst of all, how all of them mixed together.
The better an alchemist was, the more effect one could squeeze out of a set of materials. They knew how to amplify the desired effect and how to suppress the undesired effects. A bad alchemist could use a set of high grade materials to make a mediocre potion or an elixir. A decent alchemist would be able to use the same materials to create a high grade potion. A good alchemist would be able to use a mediocre set of materials to make a high grade potion. A really good alchemist would be able to use that same set of mediocre materials to create several high grade potions.
As a result, alchemy was all about the trade of materials into results, while the ability of the alchemist would determine the grade and amount of the end product and materials needed. The better alchemists would also have a wider variety of products they could make and a wider selection of methods used to produce them. Some materials would end up in more potent effects if combined in a certain way.
Dee didn’t have much experience with the profession, most of it coming from observing Selvaria as a child and making potent poisons as an assassin. That said, she did get some experience with other products with the assassins, and she did gain a fair bit of knowledge from the reading material stored within Croestia. Her learning ability and memory were top notch and there had been little else to do while she lay in the infirmary. Perhaps more importantly she also had an innate sense and instinct with the profession. She often got sudden ideas on how to improve something she read, and seem to just know what worked the best as Selvaria had noticed.
She did make one failed attempt at the recipe, but that was more due to inexperience with handling the equipment and the complexity of the recipe. The recipe itself was somewhat counter to the usual practices of alchemy. Normally materials that contained mana needed to be refined so that the mana was removed, because mana often reacted wildly with the medicinal properties of a potion or an elixir. She wasn’t making a medicinal potion though. In fact she was doing a bit of the opposite. The liquid she was creating needed to maximize mana and conduct it.
It was early morning when she walked downstairs to report her success. She found Fimul in the store again, drinking something that smelled like coffee. It looked like he hadn’t gotten any sleep last night either, though that didn’t seem to faze the dwarf too much, as he was used to it.
“Any success?” He asked without greeting.
Without a word, Dee put down two bottles that looked the same, except the liquid inside was slightly different color.
“Why the difference?” Fimul asked straight away. Apparently he was grumpy in the mornings.
“This one is done exactly according to the recipe.” Dee said pointing to the bottle on the left. “This one is my own take on it. I would like you to test it out and tell me which one you prefer.” She said while pointing to the bottle on the right.
The recipe she had gotten wasn’t bad, but Dee noticed several places where it could be improved. Even her current experience was enough for her instincts to kick in. However, she wasn’t entirely certain the improvements were just a good thing. Sometimes you didn’t want more power, as less power allowed for more precision.
“I’m pretty sure I only gave you enough materials for one bottle.” Fimul pointed out with a frown.
“You gave me the amount of materials your last alchemist would need for one bottle. I’m not your last alchemist.” A rather bold declaration of superiority. Not without a good reason though, as she could’ve made three bottles, except the first one failed almost at the end.
“So what’s the difference?” Fimul asked.
“Hard to say without trying. I don’t know the exact extent, or even if it is better. That why I’ll need you to test. If the old one is better, then I’ll make more of that. If the new one is better…” She left the rest of the sentence unsaid.
“Well then. I’ll tell you what; I’ll use the new stuff on your daggers. I finished forging them last night. If the new stuff works better, I’ll add some high level runes to them for free. If it’s shit, then it’s your daggers that suffer.” Fimul suggested with a small glint in his eyes.
“Deal.” Dee was rather confident in her creation, and high level runes would only benefit her. She could make due with normal daggers just fine, but why reject a gift when it is offered?
Dee couldn’t help the wide grin as Fimul came storming in an hour later as she was eating breakfast made by the dwarves. They didn’t make for very good cooks.
“More of this, and a lot more if you would. I don’t know what you did, but this stuff is great. Every rune I made with it had the power of a rune a full level higher. In fact, I’d love it if you would write down the new recipe for me.” Fimul said with excitement clear in his voice.
A full level increase in power of his runes just from using a different material was exceptionally useful in a hundred ways. The runes produced a bigger effect while requiring less power, the lower level runes were easier to make, and in many cases a single increase in level could make a huge difference. He’d be making every rune with this stuff from now on if at all possible. It would make him even more famous.
“Yes to the first part, no to the second. A girl’s gotta have her secrets. I don’t mind producing more for you whenever necessary though.” Dee’s grin widened.
“Damn you cheat!” There was no heat in his voice, and in fact he was smiling. He knew Dee had him trapped. “Fine, have it your way. But in exchange, I want you to look at our other recipes and see if you can improve them as well. We have quenching liquids, weapon oils and plenty of other things.”
“I think we’ll get along just fine in the future.” Dee replied, with her sly grin. Her little plan had succeeded well. She’d secured a place to practice and hone her alchemy skills, as well as Fimul as a friend.
It was evening by the time both of them were done with their work. To her disappointment, Dee was unable to make more than miniscule improvements to the other recipes used by the smithy. The other recipes were not as closely kept secrets as the rune liquid, and they were even shared beyond the dwarven smiths of the same clans and communities. As such they had received much more improvement from various sources, including experienced alchemists.
Dee also had to admit that her knowledge and skill were lacking. Although her instincts with the profession were great, they were not able to overcome her current lack of knowledge. The result would most likely be different in the future, but that didn’t help much in the present. It didn’t much matter anyway, as Fimul had already received enough compensation for his own work.
“So what do these runes do exactly?” Dee asked, noticing the complex runes that had been made with the liquid she had created earlier.
“I thought you might find yourself too busy or unable to retrieve the thrown daggers in some cases, so they will return to the sheaths if you will them to. I also added self-repair and –sharpening. The bigger one has improved cutting power and can also penetrate armor better.” Fimul said with some pride in his voice.
Dee gave a small whistle of appreciation. She had originally wanted normal throwing daggers, so these were much more than she had expected. In fact they were much better than anything she had used before as an assassin. Suddenly she frowned. “They return how?”
“What do you mean?” Fimul asked a little confused.
“You said they return to the sheath. How do they return? Do they fly through the air, so people can follow them, or do they just vanish and appear in the sheaths?” She clarified. This was a rather important difference.
“Ah, that. Well, thanks to your new liquid, it’s the latter. The benefits of higher level runes. Oh, I almost forgot. My specialty as a cleric-smith is holy weapons. The material used is really conductive for holy power and is already inherently holy. That won’t do too much for you now, but once Faylen trains you enough so that you can have you Ritual of Choosing and you have your own holy power, those puppies will be really effective against unholy types like undead. Also, they are more effective against protective holy magic. You’ll have to wait on those effects for now though.” Fimul hadn’t really forgotten, he just wanted to brag some more.
“Well, at least I know that now.” Dee said with a smile.
Sarfina came to get Dee a short time later. Dee promised she’d be back, since it would be beneficial for both of them. Sarfina was rather pleased that Dee had managed to befriend the dwarf. He’d be more willing to do good work when it came time for Dee to get her armor, shield and weapon. Those were the tools of the trade for the templar and having them made by a great smith would be very helpful.
Dee’s mood was slightly marred when they returned to the manor, as the servants were not too careful to show their displeasure at her return. There were several speculative whispers about what Dee had been doing during the previous night since she had not returned here. Most of the speculation was rather disparaging and rather indecent.
Most of that disappeared from her mind as she returned to her room. As she rested on the ceiling beam again, it finally started to hit her that she was safe. This mansion was going to be her future home for several years. Even though the servants disliked her, they were not going to beat her or kill her in her sleep. That much she could read from their nature, as the servants would think such actions as undignified. She was now armed, and had even made something resembling friends.
The relief and sense of security hit her like nothing before. She could now afford to lower her guard a little and even let some people closer, something she was wholly unable to do among the assassins. She was also hit with the negative emotions that she had been holding in check, because she had been forced into a constant state of wariness. There was sadness, grief, blame and resentment.
Why had something like that happened to her? Why did she have to suffer through all of that pain? Not to even mention normal children who grew up in warm homes, but even the other kids among the Zabaniya had had it easier. Why would the assassins do something like that to her? What had she done to earn something like this? She also somewhat unfairly blamed the people who ended up saving her, though that only lasted for a short moment. Why had they not come earlier?
For all her advanced maturity, Dee was still only a young girl who had been carrying a heavy burden for too long. Now she could finally lay some of that burden down and let the feelings out. And so she wept. Not the small silent tears hidden from all, but the heart wrenching sobs that didn’t care about who heard.
Croestia heard of course, but she knew why Dee was crying and knew it was something the girl had to let out. So she stayed silent. She knew Dee would cry herself to sleep, and tomorrow she would wake as a more whole being.
Unknown to them, Sarfina was also listening on the large balcony they shared. The sobs tore at her heart, and she had to stop herself from running into Dee’s room and just holding her. However, she too knew that this was not what Dee would’ve wanted. There was pride in the girl. Pride that would get damaged if her tears were seen by another. Sarfina knew that being held might help Dee in the moment, but it would backfire in the morning. There was a chance to give that hug at a later time without the loss of pride.
Sarfina also felt some guilt about her tears. She was supposed to protect people like Dee from the predation of organizations like Zabaniya, and in Dee’s case they had failed miserably. There would always be victims and you couldn’t save everybody, but each victim was a failure. And listening to the girl’s tears was Sarfina’s self-imposed punishment. She also swore to make it up to the girl in the future. That would hopefully be something resembling atonement.
Two people spent most of their night grieving for what was lost. Maybe tomorrow would bring a brighter future.