Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
Maas Telos epitomized a dwarf’s dream heaven. Mountains ranged across the horizon, stretching up to the sky to trail their tips through the clouds like fingers in a river. Thick forests carpeted the mountainsides in lush, velvet leaves, and any breeze not permeated by the sappy smell of pine and oak carried the scent of charcoal and mineshafts. The sun glowed the warm amber of sunset, regardless of the hour. Whenever the gods wanted a scented candle smelling of the forest, they sent the candlemakers to Maas Telos to harvest the smells of this world.
I’d always thought the forge looked like it’d been fashioned from a mountain. Although it had four, smooth sides, its polished granite surface showed no signs of mortar nor marks of brick. The roof was an uneven conic, smoke rising from the flue like a volcano rousing from slumber. Muffled dings found their way out of the depths of the forge, heralding the work occurring far below. The thick oak door, which could substitute for most mortal city gates, yawned open to vent heat.
Malia and Hasda were waiting by the entrance, standing to the side out of the way of the steam. Hasda wore rich brown robes that, while flowing, weren’t as revealing as the togas most mortals attached to deities chose to wear. For once, Malia had stayed true to her word and had left outfitting him for battle up to my discretion. As for the gorgon herself, she had her Quiver across her back, the Warbow unstrung and secured with the handful of celestial arrows she’d brought with. Not that we expected a fight from Phaeus’ smiths, but what was the point of bringing the Bow and not the arrows? Even I wouldn’t have done that.
“Did you get everything?” Malia asked as I approached. “Said your goodbyes to the old place?”
She arched a brow at me. “You’re not going to break down in tears on me, are you?”
“You were the one who did that when the goats happened,” I said, grinning.
Hasda looked confused. “What happened with the goats?”
“Don’t ask.” Malia shot me a withering look before smiling at him. “Your father would do well to remember not to bring that up again. But, come. You’ve waited long enough for your promised arms. And just in time, too,” she added, giving me a look. “Seppo has finished preparing the first trial. The announcement ceremony is this evening.”
“I hope you didn’t promise him legs as well.” I grunted as I heaved the bag off my shoulder.
Malia rolled her eyes. “Is the heat drying your humor out as well?”
“What’s this?” Hasda asked, cutting off my retort.
I nudged the bag with my foot, making the metal clank around. “Open it and find out.”
His eyes swelled like pomegranates when he saw the weaponry. “Is this for me?”
“These grubby old things are why I couldn’t outfit you in something proper the moment you arrived,” Malia said, managing to sound both miffed and pleased. “We’ll have the smiths polish everything up after we’ve collected your father’s things.”
Hasda held the chestplate up, his eyes shining. “Did these used to be yours?”
I chuckled. “Personally? No. But I had mortal champions, back when I was active. Seemed a shame to let them go to waste.”
“The part he’s not saying,” Malia said, laying a hand on Hasda’s shoulder, “is that he’s really proud of you and too stubborn to admit he was secretly hoping you’d get to wear these one day.”
I grumbled something but didn’t deny it.
“Thanks, Dad.” Hasda’s face shone with pure joy. “It means a lot to me.”
“It’s nothing.” I shrugged and tried to bulldoze over the awkwardness by ignoring it. Malia came to my rescue.
“Where is that infernal dwarf?” She huffed and folded her arms. “I told him to be ready and waiting before I arrived.”
“Apologies, Vain One.” A stumpy, stocky little man with a thick, brown beard and a scorched leather apron thumped his way out of the forge, cradling a pair of creamy-white metal rods in his arms. “But I wouldn’t dare return the Sword and Spear without giving them a once-over before. It would damage my reputation, and he, ah, might damage a fair bit more than that if I gave them back in any state short of pristine.”
“You’ve always done fine work, Phaeus,” I said, accepting the twin rods from the dwarf. As my hands settled around them, their protective wardings fell away, revealing the full form and splendor of the celestial weapons.
The Spear, fashioned after the hoplite dory, stood nearly twice as tall as I, although I could will it shorter as needed. Phaeus had polished the triangular head to a blinding gleam, and the shaft glinted from a fresh coat of lacquer. As I angled the Spear across my back, it shrank down as its wardings covered it and affixed itself diagonally to my back.
Although the Sword was no Excalibur, it certainly was majestic. With the length of a greatsword and the weight of an arming sword, thanks to the celestial steel, it had given me great pleasure to scythe through opposing armies. Its size and relative ease of use made it an extremely intimidating weapon to face down, no less so because I wielded it. Unlike the Spear, however, the Sword had a sheath, which masked the magic of the blade shrinking and gave it a resting length similar to a dagger. I affixed the sheath to my belt and settled the Sword on my left.
I sighed, content. It felt good to have my Weapons on me again. With the Signs of my Office back on my person, Malia and I could publicly acknowledge our co-seating. Most likely we would spring that fact on the rest of the pantheon this evening, after Seppo’s announcement of the trials, since I was sure Malia had kept my return secret from all but Seppo himself.
While I’d been occupied reacquainting myself with my Weapons, Malia had helped the lad try on the armor. Phaeus stood beside them, providing a scathing commentary of her fumbling efforts and the sorry state of disrepair that had claimed the weaponry. The dwarf was perhaps the only deity in all of Nebesa who could mouth off to Malia and emerge unscathed, mainly because he had a hidey-hole that the gorgon would never dare breach. In a contest between her feathers and the forge’s heat, her wings would always come out on the losing end.
Finally, Malia had had enough. “Phaeus, kindly shut your mouth and make yourself useful.”
“Or what?” he said, giving her a broad, confident grin. Arms folded, he was relaxed, his feet flat on the ground.
She flashed him a smile that was pure predator. “Or I’ll send Charax after you.”
Scowling, the dwarf squinted an eye at her, then me. His arms slowly unfolded and fell to his sides. “You wouldn’t do that, now, would you?” he asked me. “I’ve always been good to you.”
“That you have, Phaeus.” I crossed my arms and cracked my neck. “But it has been a few centuries since I’ve had a good run. While you’ve got the endurance on me, do you have the speed?”
The dwarf shifted uneasily and inched towards the door, then scowled and erupted in a torrent of curses, stamping the ground with his boots. “You old skeleton! You had me going on there for a moment.”
I chuckled. “The look on your face will be one of my most prized memories.”
Grumbling, the dwarf folded his arms and leaned against the forge door, his face sulky.
Malia fastened the last shoulder plate onto Hasda and frowned at me. “Is that it?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t mind,” Hasda said, trying a few experimental twists. “I’m honored to have this armor.”
“Precious little as there is,” Malia said, her face sour.
“I can give the boy a coat of chainmail,” Phaeus offered. He eyed the armor with a look that rivaled Malia’s displeasure. “After I give that a proper scouring, of course.”
“No chain mail,” Malia said, a little too quickly. I gave her a questioning look but she shushed me. “Greaves and bracers would be nice, though. Preferably matching, both each other and the gifted armor.”
“Demanding, aren’t we?” Phaeus pushed off the door and trundled over to help Hasda remove the armor. He took the helmet in his hands and flipped it around. “What color plumage do you want? Purple?”
“Yes,” Malia said.
“No,” I said at the same time.
Malia glared at me and I gave her a toothy grin. She thought she had me whipped already, but even with our reunion hookup I wasn’t going to be swayed that easily.
“Carthian blue,” I said, not breaking my stare with the gorgon. “Hasda is my champion as much as yours, and as he’s ours he’ll represent us both.”
“You good with that?” Phaeus asked him.
Hasda nodded. “I have no objections.”
“Smart lad.” Phaeus winked at him and collected the rest of the armor, as well as the sword. Arms full, he trudged into the forge. “I’ll have these repaired and augmented by tomorrow night. Three days, max, if I have spare greaves and bracers that won’t require too much refashioning. Otherwise, end of the week, tops.”
“Thank you, Phaeus,” Malia called after him. Her voice was sweet but her eyes were shooting daggers my way.
“Don’t mention it,” the dwarf replied, disappearing inside the forge.
When Phaeus was out of earshot, Hasda faced Malia with a serious expression and said, “Please don’t be mad at Charax. I know the symbolism means a lot to him, and he would have preferred his orange, but he went with a color that represents both of you. So, please, no fighting.”
Malia’s eyebrows rose. “Quite the forward one, aren’t you?”
“Charax says it’s called initiative.”
She choked on a laugh and gave me a foxy grin. “Oh, did he, now?”
“Goats,” I said, glowering.
She laughed. “Let’s get out of here before your father really does start a fight.” After tracing an oval in the air, she snapped her fingers, and her violet portal flared to life. Together we stepped through, transported to Maas Bierg to feast and receive the details of Hasda’s first trial.