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The Cestus Dei

The forge: The hand moves, tossing more fine coal onto the fire. The bellows work, breathing life and heat into the flame. The rod stirs, shaping the fire. The hand moves again, adding something odd to the furnace.

            The goblin cocked its head.  The rattle of a pebble on stone draws its attention, but it is not so distracted that its prey escapes.  With a quick twist it finishes its game and stuffs it into a bag.  Moving along a ridge in the pre-dawn grey with utmost caution it comes to a landing and looks down into the deeping. Hobben! A caravan of them! Five small ones and four of them carried heavy packs!  With a wicked grin full of pointed teeth the scout abandoned his post and ran for a dark crack in the mountain.

The Metal: The blocks of metal are stacked, the hard sandwiched between the soft.  The hand dribbles something sweet-smelling onto the blocks and traces a symbol.  The bellows slow and the metal is put near to warm it through and through.

            Mithradun Soulforge strode into the Blood Deeping with a workman-like air, yet the air was habit only.  He was so preoccupied with his anticipation of the marrow’s First Forging that he completely failed to notice two green-skins slipping along the ridge above the road to Deepington.

            On the marrow Clan Soulforge would begin the forging of an enchanted shortsword for their hobben friend Brander Dwarf-friend.  This would be the first time Mithradun saw the working of the enchanted metal Lunaril, moon-metal and would mark his advancement from journeyman to craftsman.  Thinking of the enchanted ingots the Little Folk were bringing, he absently patted his ten-pounder Driver hanging from his heavy smithing leathers.  The goblins slipped closer, knives loose.

            Mithradun nodded curtly to the Watch at the Bend, though he did not, in truth, see them. He was nodding to himself as he went over and over the steps he’d need to take to prepare the Soulforge for the Mastersmith.  Nor did he notice the sudden shock of combat has the Watch laid into his stalkers.  He grinned with the thought that the enchanters would bring that impudent sprite of a son with them.  The lad was a nuisance around the forge, but his squeals of mock-fright and tinkling laughter made even the dourest dwarf smile.

            Thinking of the hobben, he glanced ahead, a faint crease between his heavy brows.  He should have met them by now. They were only coming from the tradetown.  Perhaps there was a problem with the enchanting, or perhaps the Little Folk grew weary with their heavy packs and rested.  He lengthened his stride.

The Anvil: Heating the metal to glowing – almost white-hot – heat, the hand removes it and places it ringingly against the anvil.

            Nearing the overlook, Mithradun heard a faint cry, almost like a sea bird.  Breaking into a run, he heard metal ringing on metal and the unmistakable sound of arcane energy being released.  He pulled Driver from his belt without thinking and crested the slight hill at full charge.  Before him lay slaughter and chaos.  Several bodies, hobben and goblin, lay between him and a struggling knot of green-skins.  His eyes were drawn to the first, closest body, a gnome. No. Not “a gnome”. This was The Enchanter. The Enchanter was dead. Singing Void would sing no more of his bawdy illusions to delight old dwarves. He could not accept it. It couldn’t be. And that one, a goblin. And another. There a hobben he didn’t know. And there, gods save him! Vibrant Void! She was just sitting with her head bowed. But more blood than a body could hold was staining her fine robe. Shock stopped his mind, stopped his rush. Mithradun slammed to a stop, his mouth open in denial.

The Hammer: The hand picks up a hammer too heavy to lift.  The hammer pounds the metal, driving the soft into the hard, the hard into the soft, driving impurities out, welding the different metals into something much greater.

            The rush of blood in his ears, the sound of shock, faded.  It didn’t fade much; just enough to let the ringing of steel on steel penetrate to Mithradun’s heart.  His eyes dragged themselves off the still, sitting form that looked so much like his friend.

            Someone still lives! Lives and fights!

            With a rush of emotion so intense, so full of grief,  fear and righteous wrath that it could scarcely belong to a mere mortal, Mithradun charged the struggling mass.  With a bellowed “By the Gods!” he threw Driver with his entire smith-forged dwarven strength into the face of the one goblin that turned to face him.  Such was his strength that the goblin somersaulted backwards faceless.  On the far side a goblin staggered away keening an insane wail.  Awkwardly holding its entrails in, it collapsed and fell silent.

            Two left! And one facing them. A blood-splattered hobben warrior held the last two at bay with a fine rapier in each flashing hand.  Mithradun did not slow, bowling into the nearer goblin.  The world spun in a confusing whirl of teeth and fists that barroom brawls left him ill-prepared for.  When they stopped rolling the goblin sat astride the dwarf and bwegan pounding him with great blows.  The smith, one eye already swelling shut, ignored the beating and reached up with his great rock-hard hands and squeezed.  The pounding became frantic and moved to Mithradun’s arms.  Just as this same goblin had done earlier, Mithradun twisted his hands.  There was a sharp crack and both – goblin and dwarf – relaxed.

            Again it was the bell-like ringing of steel on steel, so like a hammer on the anvil, that drove Mithradun out of shock.  Rolling over and getting to his feet, he saw the last goblin sweep in with a great overhand cut the hobben warrior was simply too weary to evade.  Steel cut flesh.  The hobben cried out and spun away, awkwardly blocking the follow-up stroke with his remaining arm.  Mithradun, possessed by a fury not entirely his, blindsided the goblin, knocking it back.  He swung his fist into the goblin’s face.  With a satisfying crunch, the goblin folded, its blade dropping.

            Turning quickly to the wounded hobben, Mithradun thought wildly of all the warrior’s tales he’d ever heard, desperately trying to think of what to do.  The hobben sat down hard and looked at where his left arm ended.  Mithradun whispered “Gods help me.” And he reached out a hand to the warrior, wanting to help so much, but not knowing how to help.  And a voice whispered back “You must help me, Mithradun Soulforge. Give yourself to me and we will save this brave soul.”

            “Anything!” He cried and his hands began to glow with a feeling that was both rapture and pain, stimulating and exhausting.  The bleeding, so terrible and quick, slowed and stopped.  The end – ragged, torn, raw meat – suddenly smoothed out and skinned over.  Light and intelligence returned to the warrior’s face.

            The hobben looked up at his benefactor, grinned impishly and said “Well met, Fist of God! Excuse me…” and thrust his rapier at Mithradun.  Jerking back in startlement, Mithradun knocked into something and twisted aside.  The rapier passed him by barely a finger’s width and sunk with a meaty thunk into the last goblin.  Standing with sword high, the goblin looked as surprised as the dwarf.  It sank down to one knee, then both.  It dropped its sword, then its arms and slowly bent over, almost as if bowing to its tiny foe.

            The warrior withdrew his rapier and used it as a cane to help stand.  Wiping it carefully, he sheathed it and turned to Mithradun.  He held out his hand and said “I am named Brander Snickersnee and have been called ‘Dwarf-friend’. I would call thee friend.”

            Mithradun took his hand and said “Friend indeed. I am… I am Cestus. Cestus Dei.  Here have I found a new life.  It is only meet that ye have given me a new name as well.” 

A voice whispered in his heart “Well named and well found, my Cestus. But do not tarry. Clan Soulforge bleeds out far beneath you, for these creatures were but a feint of my enemy.  An you would preserve Soulforge, speed for the depths!”

The Goddess held up her new-forged weapon and smiled a small cold smile. First Forging. Many more lay ahead before it would be ready, but  She found it pleasing.

            Scholar’s note: The goblin wars lasted more than two centuries. At their greatest, the Cestus Dei Aethenum numbered a hundred templar. Always at the forefront of every winning battle, always at the rearguard of every losing one, by the end of the third goblin war the Cestus Dei Aethenum numbered three. In the century since that number has dwindled to one; the Cestus Dei.

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