Chapter 35 – The Ring
It had been relatively easy to make long charred handling tools the next morning. They weren’t anything revolutionary or overly sophisticated, but they could work like chop sticks in pulling the metal out of the fire, and simply using one stick to keep the metal in place while the hammer took to it would be plenty fine. It was simple and crude, but it would work.
The flat rock the Collector had found was too large to move, so he instead set up his work area around it. A hole was dug into the ground, then filled with kindling, wood, and charcoal from last night’s bonfire. A small nook was dug into the side to place a blowing pipe, made from the stem of a sturdy and hollow plant, which would heat the fire.
The hammer was set onto the large stone, awaiting its turn to be used, and the hunk of green-veined, orange-colored copper glistened in the now afternoon light. The Collector practiced moving the hunk with the two sticks, figuring out how to balance it between, and just how much pressure to use. When he was confident he could move it and turn and hold it as he liked, it was finally time to begin.
Tension and excitement filled the both of us, so eager were we to get started. Using the techniques created by Firestarter, and further perfected by the generations after, the Collector lit the pit fire, then placed the metal ore inside. He capped the hole, sealing in the heat, then blew long breaths into the blowpipe, the fire crackling with every blow.
The first time he checked on the metal, it was not quite the red hot he had seen in his vision, and returned the cap to the hole and kept the fire burning. It was a little disappointing, but he hoped it was mere impatience on his part, and not that this plan was doomed to failure. A short while after, when he checked on it a second time, he found exactly what he had been waiting for. The chunk of metal glowed with heat. The radiant refined ore looked like something otherworldly, and the Collector was stunned for a moment, captivated by its alien glow. To him, it resembled a red version of the lizards’ blue word for family heart, and for a brief moment, he wondered if he would connect to this metal the same way the riders connected to their Quick Springs.
He was entranced for but a moment, then snapped out of his daze and back to reality. It was time. Just like my vision had showed him, he saw now that he could make it real, that it wasn’t just an absurd daydream that had led him this far. He grabbed the hot metal with his two charred sticks and carried it to the flat rock. With an audible sizzling, the sticks managed to catch fire from the sheer heat of the Collector’s makeshift oven, but after he set the metal down, a good strong breath blew it out. They were only on fire for a few seconds, so the wood inside the blackened char should still be strong enough to carry out its job.
He drew his hand close to the, now literally, shining rock, and felt the immense heat pouring off the lighted hunk. It would be dangerous to touch, and he could already see it was burning the impurities on top of the flat rock black.
Now came the moment of truth. He took the stone hammer into one hand, and one charred stick into the other. With the stick, he held the metal in place, then raised the hammer high above his head, and with all his strength brought it down upon the shining rock. He could feel it through his entire body when he struck it. It did not immediately flatten, it didn’t even look like he dented it, but he could feel that it had given way ever so slightly. He raised the hammer again, and struck.
Over and over, he hit the metal. When the heat began to die down he moved it back to the makeshift furnace to reheat it. His muscles were already aching, but he didn’t want to stop. Already its shape was beginning to change. The top where he continued to strike was becoming flatter, and its sides bulged from the the mass trying to run away from the hammer.
The collector’s body became hot from the strenuous work, and he found himself panting with his mouth open to release the heat trapped by his scales. It was hard work, but he relished in it. Just as the metal was being forged into something new, the Collector could feel himself changing as well. He was heated from the inside just like the metal, and it made him feel all the more connected to it.
As he continued to work the metal, flattening it to have as much smooth surface as possible, it began taking on a disc-like shape. He was filled with a fervor, and though his muscles rebelled against the abuse, he didn’t dare stop until he was finished. Again and again he swung the hammer. He could feel it was almost complete. Though simple in design, it was like nothing the lizards had ever created before.
And then, with another swing of the hammer, his wooden tool lost its grip on the hot metal, and the almost-disc tumbled down from the stone.
As the roundish shape of metal fell, a memory surged, overlaying itself on the scene I saw through the lizard’s eyes. A round piece of metal also fell in that memory, though its center was hollow. I watched in slow motion as the coppery-orange, no, silver shape descended to the floor. Inlaid with precious stones, I knew it to be valuable, but not for the rarity of the ring itself. The worth of the ring lied in the one that wore it, the one I had given it to so long ago, when I had pledged my love to them until my dying days.
It hit the ground with a sharp ting. The sound itself was small, but the echo I heard inside myself drowned out all other noise. The significance of that sound hit me like the Collector’s hammer on the hot metal. Every bounce occurred in slow motion, the subsequent tinging sounds bouncing off the walls and the hard ground, each echo overlapping the other. It finally came to rest, but the sound still echoed through my nearly hollow heart.
I could only see a vague shape in front of me, all that remained of my significant other, my better half. They had taken the ring off of their own accord and let it fall to the ground unceremoniously. I was appalled, why would they do this? We were supposed to be together until the end of our days, that was the promise we had made. But now it was crumbling, it was over. I thought I had lost everything of myself in the fire, but that one ring was truly the last piece of me. The last small vestige of my old self faded away from my heart with the last echo of the fall.
I wanted the ring back on the finger where it had stayed for years. The sudden emptiness inside was so complete it made me desperate for something, anything to fill it. Even if it wasn’t real, even if I had to pretend it was true, it could eventually become true, right? A tumult of emotions surged, desperate for escape.
But it was not to be. A rage lied within those emotions, and it was powerful, and hateful. I wondered why they would ever leave me like this. I found myself yelling and though I didn’t understand the words, I understood what they meant. I was pained, tortured; I didn’t understand. Did I even want to understand? Raw emotions flowed through me, they were sad, they were hateful, they spoke untruths that I convinced myself to be real in my madness.
I was in turn looked upon with pity and regret.
No, no don’t look at me like that. I’ll take back everything I said, just stay. Don’t turn away, look at me! Don’t walk away, come back! Please, don’t leave me, I need you! Don’t leave me alone!
But I didn’t say those things. I kept them all down, swallowed them, choked on them, and just watched as they left, silent but for my own inner turmoil. Maybe if I had said something, done something, it would have been different. Maybe I would have been saved. But now my last lifeline was gone, and the obsession that had driven me into that darkness could now consume me whole, and I had no one to pull me back out.
I became irrational, depressed, as every emotion I had ever felt was hollowed out, carved right out of my chest. Why couldn’t they understand me? I thought they understood me better than anyone else in this world, it was why I loved them. Why didn’t they desire the truth? How could they live knowing that the killer was still out there, the one that had broken our family?! Why was I the only one that felt like this?
But now there was nothing left of me except a madness and desire that consumed me from the inside out. That was why they left. I was no longer the one they had pledged their heart to. I didn’t even want to be saved from that darkness, so they couldn’t save me, nor did they want to watch as I fell further into that oblivion. So they left.
Then I was truly alone.