I opened my eyes, blinking away the crust of a long night’s sleep. Heph still worked away, hunched over the shield, or rather, Vellen. He looked to be using some sort of leather to polish his work. I approached him, looking over his shoulder. The large gash which had been there when I had gone to sleep was gone. In fact, I could only just make out the faint line of a scar down the metal.
“How goes it?” I asked.
Heph didn’t look up from his work, only pausing to dip the black leather he held in his hand into a white cream from a container next to him.
“The repair went as well as could be expected, given the shoddy care you’ve given Vellen.”
“I’ve treated that shield as a friend. Any poor treatment was born of ignorance, not malice.”
The Hob glanced at me, then looked away. “I believe that. Most Humans aren’t cruel intentionally, just casually and without thought.
“I’m just finishing up polishing Vellen; a relic such as this deserves to shine on the outside as much as it does on the inside.” He lifted the leather he held in his hand. “This is Dragon skin, harvested from a youngling black Dragon. I’ll send you off with some, since I suspect you Humans probably polish using inferior products.”
I let the causal racism slide. Dragon skin was a precious material used in magic, alchemy, and crafting—I suspected that the single strip the smith was using was probably worth a good three gold coins. If he intended to give me more than that, I couldn’t think of all the uses it might be put to.
As if reading my mind, Heph stabbed a finger into my chest. “Don’t even think of using this for a spell or potion. Dragon skin is the only material I trust to maintain Vellen. This is crucial to keeping it intact. Dragon skin carries within it a certain amount of magika. When you rub it against a weapon or piece of armor, you imbue it with some of the Dragon’s essence. It’s that which makes it such a good component in arcana, alchemy, and the crafting arts. If you maintain Vellen with this every few days, you will keep it from being scarred so easily.”
He stood from his bench, walking behind a small counter tucked away in the corner of the forge. Taking a small key from his leather apron, he leaned down and unlocked something. From behind the counter, he came back up with a small box.
“This box contains five strips of dragon skin.” He pulled out a jar similar to the one he had on his bench, setting it on the counter. “This is rendered Dragon tallow. Use this sparingly, only every other treatment. This will both shine and help to repair small amounts of damage.”
I approached the counter, mind racing. The items in front of him would total out to over thirty gold worth of goods. A tradesman could retire on less.
“Thank you,” I said, collecting the goods. “I honestly don’t know how to thank you.”
A rough hand clamped down on mine. “Thank me by keeping good care of my Grandfather’s work. I intend to take Vellen from you myself.”
I nodded. “Fine. But if you think you’ll get Vellen from me easily, you have another thing coming.” Just for a moment our eyes stayed locked, the challenge given and accepted.
The Hob broke eye contact, nodding. “As long as that’s understood.” He looked me up and down. “Why aren’t your sword, spellbook, and boots talking? They can, right? Vellen is unconscious, what’s their excuse?”
“You knew we could talk the entire time?” asked the boots.
“Well then, that was fucking pointless. Can I kill him, Henry?”
“It appears our friend has a propensity towards the arcane, Henry. He spied out our magicks, I’d bet.”
I laughed, “They aren’t supposed to give away their nature around those who might be enemies. Once the fight is on or we’re alone though, they don’t shut up.”
“I resent that, Henry!” exclaimed the book. “The others maybe, but I only speak succinctly, and when the impact is greatest. To suggest that I am overly verbose is disingenuous and—”
“Shut up, gasbag, we get it, you’re a dictionary. Seriously, he knows too much, let’s cut him up.”
“You know,” said the boots. “I actually think I’m seeing it now.”
“We’re not killing anyone,” I said between laughs.
To my surprise, Heph was grinning too.
“You treat your sentient gear well, I suppose…maybe you aren’t the usual scum your race seems to produce.”
“Thanks, I guess?” I said. “I think that’s a compliment, still racist though.”
Heph laughed, his laugh a booming sound in contrast with his small form. “Would your kind speak well of ours? I don’t think so.”
I took the question seriously. “Well, possibly actually. You seem like some of the finest craftsman around. I think your work is easily the equal of Dwarves, and you definitely outstrip our ability. I think most people don’t realize what you have to offer. I certainly didn’t before coming here.”
Heph’s mood darkened. “Yes, I think you’re right. That is the problem with Humans. You are all superior and ready to judge whether or not an entire species is worthy of recognition. Seems to me that you make your determination purely based on how they can be of use to you. Goblins were, what, stupid monsters to you before coming here? Now that we show intelligence, strength, honor in our own way, you deem us worthy. Don’t make me sick. We don’t have anything to ‘offer’ Humanity save for blood. Blood and black eyes.”
My jaw clenched. “You may be right, in some ways. But how are your people different? You raid Human lands, attack peaceful settlements, and this entire time you’ve been calling Humans inferior. What makes you think you have any right to judge us?”
The Hob sighed heavily, sitting down once more. “You have a point. When it comes down to it, we’re out for our own, just like you are. Difference is, we don’t pretend to have the high ground. We are vicious, cunning, and duplicitous when we have to be. We are proud of these things as strengths. We don’t pretend to virtues we don’t have. That’s what ultimately makes us better than Humans. We’re honest, both with ourselves and those we meet.”
“He’s right, Henry,” chimed in a familiar voice.
The shield—Vellen spoke quietly, but it sounded much stronger than during the fight with Gitlog.
I rushed to its side, touching the now gleaming shield. “Vellen! It’s good to hear your voice!”
“What did you call me?” the shield sounded as though he were speaking at the other end of a far-off tunnel.
“Vellen?” I repeated. “Heph here told me it was your name."
A light began to suffuse the shield, a soft glow at first, but gradually it built to the point that I was forced to cover my eyes. Heph shielded his eyes, flinching away from the blazing light. Gradually, the light faded into a glow. I opened my eyes, blinking away afterimages.
“What in the twelve planes of Hell was that?!” I yelled.
“That,” said the shield, its voice now a rich baritone, “was evolution.”
“Well, aren’t we feeling obtuse today,” said the book. “Elaborate on what you mean, we can’t read your bloody mind.”
“Up until now, my name and past have been unclear to me. I remembered being crafted by the Hobgoblins, but I did not recall by whom exactly. I knew that I was built to defend my owner, but I knew not why. I remember now, I remember everything.”
“Better, but we still don’t know what you mean by evolution. Why would remembering your past result in a lightshow, and what does it mean?” I asked.
“I was getting to that, Henry. It’s best that you sit down for this, the tale is a substantial one.”
I took its advice, and so, too, did Heph. We pulled chairs up, waiting for the shield to begin.
“Oh Gods, we’re about to get exposition, aren’t we?” complained the sword.
“Shush, I want to hear the story,” whispered the boots.
“You know, you still owe us your backstory,” commented the book.
“Quiet, all of you, it’s starting,” said Henry.
“It was over two hundred-fifty years ago. In the time of King Haralus the Black. Humanity was pushing out its borders, reveling in their relative power compared to their neighbors. The armies of man marched against the Dark Elves, the Deep Dwarves, and the Goblin Tribes. The spearpoint was headed by the elite warriors of Humanity, the Living Weapons."
I straightened in my chair, barely believing what I heard. This was a very different story from the one told at the Academy.
Vellen continued, “Limited in number but deadly in their arts, they worked as commanders, shock troops, and assassins. They sowed chaos on the battlefield, wielding magics which split the earth, blades which harvested lives like a scythe through grain, the velvet hand which clutched the knife which slaughtered leaders and mages in their sleep…I was designed to counter the Living Weapon threat.”
“Though he was young, Sindri, the Grandfather of Heph, was the finest smith in all of the Goblin tribes. With the respect his name commanded, he arranged a meeting with the Goblin King, himself. He argued that with the right materials, he could create two items to help counter the Human threat. He argued to craft a shield and a helm, being that he specialized in creating armor over weapons. They would be powerful, capable of defending the champion of Goblinkind from all outside threats. They would be intelligent, able to guide the hand of the one who donned them. They would each carry with them the spark of life which would allow them to grow stronger with time...”
“Why only two?” I asked in the lull.
Beph answered instead of Vellen, “A master smith can craft only two Masterpieces in their life. As they shape the metal and carve the runes, they must invest a portion of their soul into their work. A smith will never best or even match their Masterpieces once they are finished. Often, a smith simply dies after his best work is done, satisfied in having fulfilled his life’s meaning.”
“Exactly,” said the shield. “Sindri got the approval of the King, and he decreed that all Lords would aid him in bringing these items to life. It took months to gather the needed materials. Tens of thousands of Goblins died in the struggle to hold back the Human invaders. But finally, they managed to finish both pieces of armor. Vellen, the Aegis, and Torron, the Tarnhelm. They were given to Gulvris the Mighty, King of the Goblins as he was greatest amongst his people. Protected by us and outfitted with the finest treasures the Hobgoblins could craft, he took to the front line.”
I recognized the name. He was the reason all Living Weapons were taught to recognize the telltale sound of the Goblin King’s drums. If ever they heard that sound, they were to gather and take on the threat together. I felt uncomfortable at the confirmation. Could this story be true?
“The tides of war changed. Where Gulvris went, Humanity faltered. Many Living Weapons fought him one on one. Many Living Weapons died. Soon, Humanity took true note of the Goblin threat. They pulled all Living Weapons away from the other front lines, in some cases signing ceasefires with enemies to pull their forces towards the new front. During the decisive battle of the war, Gulvris lead his most powerful Lords against the largest concentration of Living Weapons in memory. A force of over fifty had been assembled, and they had one goal—kill the Goblin King.”