Chapter 61: Many good things come today in the heart of winter. They smell like owls.
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Hineni wobbles the new ladder, shaking it with his hands.

 

It stands firm.

 

Rain pours outside of the house, coming down noisily in a torrential, out of season downpour.

 

Inside of the forge however, it is warm. The walls are thick and well insulated. The fires are burning brightly, radiating a kind heat. It travels through the heating shaft, filling the entire building with its much needed presence. The winter looks as if it were going to be a long and hard one.

 

The man turns his head, looking over towards Rhine, who is busy at work, drawing up the designs for steel molds.

 

They have the capacity to use these now, to make things like arrowheads and blades. It’s a good thing that they had been preparing this idea for a while now. It might just be what saves them.

 

Rhine rolls his shoulders, cracking his neck and then looms back down over his sketch.

 

A winter like the one that is upon them is one that, back in the orphanage, most often ended up in several empty beds when spring came around. It’s always been like that. The forgotten, the obscure, the things that are far from the warmth, the winter comes to take them.

 

Hineni pats Rhine on his shoulder, letting the boy work, as he wanders out of the forge.

 

The god of death had said as much to him, during their encounter.

 

He would have been his, ‘soon’. If Hineni hadn’t met Obscura, he’s sure that this is the winter that would have taken him from this world.

 

He steps out into the restaurant. It is busy and exploding with life and noise and smells and sights. The tables are packed with adventurers, who are eating their fill and drinking enough to flood the place with more liquid than even Rhine’s magic.

 

They’ve ordered more than several kegs of beer and it’s become a big staple and has brought a lot of life to the place.

 

- But it also has opened the door for some trouble.

 

Hineni watches as someone bothers the waitress Kleidet in an inappropriate manner, grabbing her wrist and pulling her over to their table. Irit, the doorman, standing by the door as quietly as always, immediately makes his way over towards the table and handles the problem.

 

A moment later, there’s one guest less in their guild. But his place is quickly filled, as someone else comes inside, seeking shelter from the heavy storm.

 

“I’m telling you, a literal giant nest isn’t in the budget,” argues Sockel, turning her head.

 

He heads to the counter. “How’s it going?” asks Hineni, looking at Sockel and Obscura. Obscura is sitting on the elf’s shoulder in the form of a small owl.

 

“Insubordinate Sock-elfs do not heed Obscura’s wisdom,” hoots the owl-god.

 

Sockel turns his way. “Your wife wants to build a literal giant nest and put it up on the rafters,” says Sockel, pointing at the beam, where the owl-god usually sits.

 

“A throne!” hoots Obscura. “A throne, befitting of her title.”

 

“Yeah, sure,” says Sockel, lifting her fingers. “First we need to reinforce the beams again for that weight,” she says, counting off a finger. Obscura hoots indignantly. “Then we’d need to bribe the health inspectors, which we can’t afford, because of all the owl-fluff falling onto everyone’s food,” she counts. “And thirdly…” She stops, thinking for a second.

 

Hineni recognizes that look. She doesn’t actually have a third reason, but she needs to find one. The spell of threes compels her to do so.

 

“- It’s dumb,” finishes Sockel.

 

“The Sock-elf will understand when she sees it,” says Obscura.

 

“No,” replies Sockel. “Shouldn’t you be out hunting?”

 

Obscura lifts a wing. “The big rains would ruin Obscura’s divine elegance,” she explains. “Hineni will not like a wet Obscura.”

 

“Who cares what he likes?” asks Sockel. “We need rabbits.”

 

Hineni shrugs. “I’ll leave you to it,” he says. “All good, Kleidet?” he asks, walking past the waitress, as she rushes by with an empty platter.

 

“All good.”

 

The kitchen is aglow with a heat, shared with the forge. The two men, the orc, Leicht and the dwarf, Lutz, are engaged in a complicated dance of sorts. They run around each other, grabbing pans and pots and stirring and shuffling them with seemingly no rhyme or reason, at least for an outsider’s eye.

 

But they’re so well coordinated in their steps and their motions that they don’t even seem to be making an active effort to work around the other. Every time Leicht takes a step to hastily reach for a pot, Lutz takes an uncoordinated step to grab a seasoning of some kind or to flip some searing piece of meat.

 

The two of them are clearly experts in their craft.

 

“Careful, coming through,” says Hineni, stepping through the kitchen, finding himself awkwardly bumbling through it, as he interrupts their flow. He makes a note in his mind to not step into the kitchen too often during work hours.

 

He takes a right, quietly entering into the library, inside of which… something giggles?

 

“- And then I told him -” says a familiar voice, Eilig. “Oh, great,” she says and Hineni watches as a blob rises up above the shelves. “You’re here.”

 

Hineni blinks. “Eilig. This is my house.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” says the fairy. “What do you want?”

 

Hineni holds his arms out to his sides. “Eilig. This is my house,” he repeats. “I can just be here, you know?” asks Hineni. “Any room I want, any time I want.”

 

“Ugh,” she says in disgust and then floats back down.

 

“What are you doing in here?” he asks.

 

“It’s too loud in my cellar when those monsters, who you hired, are working,” says Eilig’s voice from behind the shelf. “So I came here to get some quiet.”

 

Hineni stares for a second and then shrugs. That makes sense to him. “You’re not bothering Seltsam, are you?” he asks.

 

“No!” says Seltsam’s voice from behind the shelf. “I’m just working. She’s not bothering me.”

 

Hineni thinks for a moment and then shrugs. “Okay. Fine with me,” says Hineni. “Any orders today?” he asks.

 

“Yeah,” replies Seltsam. “Someone wanted five pages from a book on some weird animal that starts with an 'h' and somebody else wanted a biography of the first-hero, Azimuth.”

 

“Five pages?” asks Hineni. “Why not just give them the whole book then?”

 

“Oh, I just transcribed them real quick,” says Seltsam. “Otherwise we’d have a book less here in the library, you know? C- can’t have that!”

 

Hineni tilts his head. Transcribing a book sounds like a mountain of work, let alone something that can be done ‘real quick’. Even just five pages feels like it would take him several hours, if not a day.

 

Oh well. It’s not his problem to worry about. As long as everything is going well.

 

“Great. Keep up the good work,” says Hineni, wandering off towards the door, leading to the back of the reception. “Glad you made a friend, Eilig.”

 

“Shut up! Get out of my library,” snaps the fairy.

 

“It’s my library,” replies Hineni, waving a hand idly over his shoulder.

 

Seltsam mumbles something indistinct. But Hineni has the feeling that she was making an effort to claim the title as well.

 


 

“We’re set,” says Rhine.

 

Hineni looks at the drawings and nods. “These look great. Good work,” he praises. “You can take a break if you want,” he says. “I’ll get started now.”

 

“I’m fine,” says Rhine, getting up. “We need these done as soon as possible, right?”

 

“Yeah,” says Hineni.

 

“Okay, let’s get started then. We have enough steel ready with the last order that came in today,” explains Rhine, pointing at the stack of ingots by the wall.

 

Hineni nods and they get everything ready.

 

Everyone is working so hard to make this project of theirs become fruitful.

 

He supposes that Sockel’s lecture wasn’t entirely unwarranted.

 

As with those many winters of his childhood, he isn’t the only one who is trying to make it through the season.

 


 

“Her Hi~ ne~ ni is wise beyond compare,” hoots Obscura proudly, looking at the molds.

 

Hineni shakes his head. “No, this was Rhine’s idea and work.”

 

“It’s really simple!” says Rhine, heading to one of their molds. It looks like a large book, made entirely out of metal. Rhine flips it open, revealing indents on either side of the inside of it. They are shaped like arrowheads. There are twenty-seven of them in one mold.

 

“See?” he asks, pointing at the indents. He closes the ‘book’ mold and then points at the top. “We just seal the molds with some clay and heat it up, so that it stays shut.” He pokes at a hole at the top of it. “Then we pour our metal into this and it’ll flow through little rivers into the indents,” he explains. “After it cools off, we just have to open it and break them out!”

 

Hineni nods, feeling a deep pride welling in his chest. “We’ll make a few of these,” he explains. “For arrowheads, but also for simple blades and things like axe heads,” he looks around the forge. “This will save us months of work.”

 

“Obscura is pleased,” hisses the owl-god, spinning her head and holding her talons together in excitement. “Many hands will hold her gifts,” she says. “Many will be cut by her sharp-sharp talons!”

 

“Sure,” says Hineni. “But most importantly, we’re keeping up with the other gods,” he says. “We got this order, but the real operations in the tower-district, I bet they have twenty times as much,” he explains. “The god of the forge’s tower is practically on fire. They’re running non-stop.”

 

“Do we have to worry about the frogs?” asks Rhine. Obscura hisses. “They don’t have a forge, but…” He thinks for a moment and then shakes his head. “- Nevermind. I didn’t say anything.”

 

Hineni nods, understanding. It’s true that the frogs don’t have a forging operation. But they’re surely doing something to raise their power too. They won’t just be sitting by and letting Obscura become stronger with no competition. Rhine might know what this is, but he clearly doesn’t want to give up his family.

 

“The river-boy protects his brood, yes?” asks Obscura. Rhine looks away. “But his powerful work protects the brood of Obscura,” she hoots. “He stands between the river and the tree and one day, the river will rise and the tree will fall and he will be stuck.”

 

“Yeah, but, uh, can we just pretend I said nothing?” he asks. “Please?”

 

“Wise Obscura forgets few things,” says the owl-god. “But this will become lost in the forest of her head-vision.”

 

Hineni nods, surprised that she was so reasonable about this. Usually she is a lot more stubborn about her interests. But she seems to have a soft spot for Rhine, like he himself does.

 

And besides, the results of his work can’t be argued with.

 


 

It is late at night. The restaurant is closed and everyone has gone home.

 

“Eilig?” calls Hineni. “Are you down here?”

 

“Where else would I be?” asks the fairy, popping her head out of her home. “Why are you always bothering me?!”

 

He lifts a hand, showing that he’s come in good faith. “I just wanted to bring you something,” he says. “Sorry it took so long,” says Hineni, setting his bag down.

 

“What are you talking about?” asks the fairy suspiciously.

 

Hineni unpacks the large bundle, unwrapping the fabric covering it. “Doll-houses are expensive and finicky to make, if you want a good one.” The fabric drops, revealing a large doll-house. It is adorned with pretty features and painted in a vibrant, spring shades of pastel pinks and yellows and blues.

 

The fairy gasps. Hineni points at it, spinning it around. “I hope you don’t hate the colors,” he says. “I thought it was too much. But my carpenter told me that it’s right.”

 

The blob flies down past his face, straight towards the thing.

 

He watches as she pulls open the front door and steps inside. “It’s perfect!” says the fairy excitedly. Hineni sighs in relief, listening to little doors opening and closing inside of the structure, followed each time by a small gasp.

 

She pops her head out of a window excitedly and he hears her wings buzzing and a tone leave her as she opens her mouth, but then never says anything.

 

“- About time you paid me for my efforts.”

 

“You’re welcome, Eilig,” replies Hineni, knowing that that wasn't the first thing that she tried to say.

 

The fairy slams the window shut, but he sits there for a while, listening to the muffled giggling and opening of doors and cabinets, finding it bringing a smile to his own face.

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