When’s the last time I tried a flash fiction? It’s been a while. This one’s apropos of nothing; just a little seedling that took root while I was falling asleep a few nights ago.
The man behind the counter is exactly as promised. His face, grizzled and careworn. His beard, long with a braid that dangles just above his belt. His arms, corded steel sleeved in jagged patterns of ink.
This is the forgemaster, all right.
Jad flicks his cigarette into the gutter and swaggers into the shop. A quaint tinkling bell announces him.
“Evening,” Thierry mutters without looking up. His knotty fingers work delicately away on a blade and stone in his hands, putting Jad in mind of a patient spider.
Jad strides right up to the counter. Lays his hands on the glass. Looks hard at the older man, willing him to look back. Thierry lets the moment linger, then lays down his tools. “Help you?”
“You’re the forgemaster.”
At that, the old man folds his arms and leans way back. He arches an eyebrow as he takes Jad in from head to toe. The ragged hair, gaunt face, sinewy body. All the leather. “Are you asking, or telling?”
Jad’s gaze flicks down to the glass case full of knives set between them. Each one beautiful and terrible, like the teeth of ancient megafauna honed to an evil point. Blades of bone, steel, and materials Jad can’t identify. The master’s work. “It’s you. You made these. You’re him.”
“Sure, kid. You got me. But … ugh. Forgemaster. Just call me Thierry. What do you want?” He asks as if he already knows, and, way Jad figures, probably he does.
“I’m a hunter.”
Jad flinches. Usually the title carries a bit more gravity. But he presses on. “A damned good hunter. I’ve had the visions. I’ve slain nightwalkers in droves. I am chosen.”
Thierry gives an approving frown. “I’m sure you’re doing just fine for yourself. What do you want with me?”
Jad grins, opens his palms and shrugs. “I need a weapon.”
“Got some fine ones here,” Thierry says. “What’s your fancy?”
“No,” Jad says. “I need a real weapon.”
Thierry’s eyes roll skyward, and he pinches the bridge of his nose. “You’ve done your homework.”
“You learned I was still alive. Tracked me down. Sought me out. No small feat. I don’t see many hunters these days.”
Jad can’t help himself. His smirk widens. “Wasn’t easy.”
“You must also know I’m retired.”
Jad gestures around the shop. “Don’t look so retired to me.”
“I sell these. I don’t forge anymore. But you know that, too.”
“I know that you gave it up because the hunters let you down.” Thierry’s gaze has drifted off across Jad’s shoulder. Jad shifts himself into the older man’s line of sight. “But I won’t let you down.”
It’s Thierry’s turn to smirk at the kid. “What’s your name, then?”
“Jad. I like you. You’ve got spirit. But I’m retired. No offense. I don’t work for the hunters anymore.” And Thierry picks up his knife and stone and goes back to sharpening.
Jad blinks in disbelief. “For decades, you’ve made the weapons that keep the shadow at bay.” He starts, then stops, then starts again. “You can’t just quit!”
“I can,” Thierry says, “and I have. You want to fight the nightwalkers? You’re welcome to any weapon you see here. Free of charge, even. Because I like you. But I’m nobody’s slave anymore.”
Jad recoils like he’s been slapped. “Slave? The hunters never –”
“Don’t.” Thierry’s eyes are as sharp as any blade in the store.
“I’ll pay you, of course.”
Jad is flabbergasted. “I’m the most talented hunter in an age. The elders have said so. I’ve got a chance to destroy the nightwalkers for good. I need a proper weapon to do it. Not one of these … kitchen knives.”
Thierry looks almost bored, scraping away at the blade in his hand. Shiiiiink. Shiiiiiiink. “If you’re such a great hunter, surely you already know: the greatest weapon is the one in your head, not the one in your hand.” He meets Jad’s gaze one last time. “The answer is no.”
The kid moves like lightning. In a flash, Thierry’s blade is in Jad’s hand, the point of it thrust behind Thierry’s bushy beard, its point drawing a bead of blood at his neck.
Thierry actually chuckles. “You’re fast, I’ll give you that.”
Jad’s eyes bulge a bit crazily as he bares his teeth. “You will make me a weapon.”
The air goes out of Thierry, and Jad can tell he’s won. “Come back in three days.”
Three days later, true to his word, Thierry presents the young hunter with his masterwork. The blade, a demon’s flame cast in hexsteel, icy to the touch. Devilishly sharp. A breathtaking weapon. “You won’t regret this,” Jad says. He drops a ridiculous amount of money on the countertop.
“Just remember what I said about the weapon in your hand,” Thierry says. “And try not to get yourself killed.”
“Don’t worry your little heart about me, old man,” Jad says.
That very night, Jad carves his way through a nest. One nightwalker after the next falls before the master’s blade. All the way to the broodmother. Jad sinks his blade hilt-deep in the nightwalker’s chest. She laughs, then tears Jad’s throat out.
Jad expires in a mist of blood and fear, unseeing eyes blinking wildly in the night. His fingers grasp at the blade that won’t help him; a forgery, a fraud.
Ellaree, the broodmother, tosses the blade unceremoniously on Thierry’s counter, along with a ridiculous amount of money.
“You’re getting lazy,” she hisses. “I’ve seen this weapon before.”
Thierry shrugs. “The kid hadn’t. Did he die well?”
“Does it matter?” Thierry curls up like a beetle, at that. “Nobody will know otherwise. You can even sell that weapon again, if you want.” She smirks. “Again, again.”
Thierry hefts the dagger, thinks about plunging it right into her heart. It’d be useless, of course, but it might feel good. Might be worth the death it’d earn him. Instead, he tucks it into the back of his belt, safely out of sight. Just in case another upstart hunter shows his face this night.
Wouldn’t want to miss another sale.