The Steam Dragon Chronicles
The Axiom Gauntlet
A pickaxe clunked off the conveyor belt and fell into the enchanting slot in front of Ceria. The stamp on the handle designated a level one enhancement. She sighed. They were always stamped for level one enhancements.
Lifting the tool off the conveyor belt, the elf looked it over. It had a small dent in the steel of the prying blade. Her supervisor would call it “hardly noticeable.” Right. Not her job.
She picked up a small stone of quartz from the pile next to her and cast the enhancing spell on the pickaxe. She watched as the magics flowed, both gem and tool glowing for a moment. The gemstone crumbled to dust in her hand as its elements joined with the mining tool. And now there was another low-end magic pickaxe for Tevulon to sell. To most people, the whole process was probably amazing. But Ceria did this hundreds of times a day. Over and over again.
She started to drop it in the receptacle, but paused, frowning again at the dent. She grabbed another chunk of quartz and fed the tool a little more energy, a minor frost-based magic that would freeze the rock as the tool was used, making it rather more effective. ... and arguably more expensive, but it WAS damaged goods. She left it marked as a tier one enchant and slid the tool down the factory seconds chute. It dropped onto that conveyor, sliding out of sight.
“What are you doing?” her friend, Nerre (a dark-skinned, sprightly elf), looked at her concernedly from her next-door spot on the assembly line. “You’re not supposed to do custom enchantments!”
“It’s a reject anyway,” Ceria shrugged. “So I gave it a bonus spell... like a little surprise for whoever buys it.”
“That’s the only one you’ve done that on, right?” Ceria looked at the ceiling, then to the floor. “RIGHT??”
“Done what on what?” Their supervisor, Huffuld, a burly human with a burlier mustache and carrying a clipboard, limped up behind them. His bad leg had kept him out of the war. It had little effect on his dedication to unimaginative work practices.
“Nothing, sir,” said Ceria. “Just sending off damaged goods.”
“Hm,” he frowned. “In my experience, any damage that gets this far down the line is hardly noticeable. You’re an assembly line enchanter, Berreni. Not quality control.”
Ceria gritted her teeth. “Yes, sir,” she managed to say. Nodding with satisfaction, Huffuld went on his way. Sighing, Ceria turned back to her crafting slot, but it was empty. Then she noticed the whistle blowing. Lunchtime. She headed for the locker room, Nerre followed along.
“He’s a nedder anyway,” Nerre said, meaning their boss. She pulled off her goggles. “He’ll be stuck in middle management forever. You just need to be patient, wait for the big bosses to notice you. Get on special projects. Then you’ll get a challenge. That’s what I’m doing.”
Ceria removed her crafting apron without comment. Her locker door was stuck again. She fed it a small bolt of energy. It blasted open rather more violently than she intended, scattering her meager belongings. A dwarf woman with the locker next to hers gave her a withering look.
“Sorry,” said Ceria. The dwarf shook her head and moved on. Ceria bent down to pick up her books: Bridging the Fossil Gaps by Muldred Gussler, Mission to the Moons (the third rousing adventure of Calrad Darby!) by Nuwles Prust, Geological Strata 101, and The Tevulon Enchantment Company’s Employee Handbook. The last one had been in her locker since employee orientation. And unopened since then. She put them all back on the shelf, then frowned into her locker mirror as she took off her goggles and straightened her glasses.
Her curly, gingery hair was a little sweaty from the heat, but it framed her roundish face and offset her freckles. The tips of her long ears poked out of her hair on either side. She thought she looked tired. Or maybe just worn out. “I think I’m sick of this job,” she said.
“You just need a change of pace,” said Nerre from behind her. “You know, wear something nice, do up your hair, and go out on the town with me,” She ran her fingers through her own shiny black hair, styling it rapidly with a minor glamour spell. “See? It’s easy.”
“That’s just what my pocket book needs, your idea of good time, “ Ceria laughed.
“If you’re buying your own drinks, you’re doing it wrong,” Nerre chuckled. Ceria shook her head and held up her book on the fossil record. “Anyway, I’m on a really interesting part. They’re delving into the theories on the repeated periodic fossil gaps in mammalian evolution, specifically related to early orcs and humans.”
Nerre groaned. “Fine, I won’t drag you all over town. But you’re coming to dinner with me tonight. I absolutely won’t let you spend another entire weekend reading your books.”
Ceria sighed. The sad empty shelves of her icebox contained only leftover bronto “meat product” and some canned yert fruit. A dinner at an actual restaurant sounded pretty good. “Okay. You win. I’ll go.”
“Good. But first... we have to survive cafeteria lunch.”
* * *
Sheera’s talons clung to the cliff face, the joints in her clawed fingers turning white with the tension. A stiff breeze caught her wings. She gripped even tighter and made the mistake of looking down. She closed her eyes.
“You have to let go eventually!” Emberclaw called out, wafting high on a thermal from the lake.
“No, I don’t,” she shook her head at her green big brother. A clump of soil crumbled under her left claw and she scrabbled to regain her hold.
“C’mon,” Emberclaw grinned at his reddish kid sister. He flapped closer. “You drank so much water, you’re practically lifting off anyway. I thought you wanted to practice.”
“I changed my mind... I don’t need to fly. I like walking.”
“You’re thinking about it too much. Just dive off.”
Emberclaw grinned mischievously. “Besides, you remember the easy way to land, right?”
Sheera nodded slowly. “Just let the flame out a bit at a time.”
“Right,” said Emberclaw, flapping hard backwards. “Not like this.”
With that, sparked by his tongue on the roof of his mouth, he spat dragon gas at the cliff edge, a few yards down from his sister. The fireball blossomed on the loose rock and soil. Without further ado, Sheera’s craggy perch collapsed underneath her.
“You kork!” she shrieked, flapping madly and waving angry talons at him.
Emberclaw laughed as he continued his reverse maneuver to keep out of range of his sister.
“I told you,” he chuckled. “But seriously, you don’t need to flap so hard. You’re buoyant enough at your size. And watch your breathing or you’ll let out your gas instead. Sheera? Sheera!”
She was nodding, but she was also losing altitude more and more rapidly. A sudden burst of fire coughed out of her mouth and then she was plunging. Emberclaw blew out a wave of his own and tucked into a dive after the madly flapping dracling.
Stretching hard with his neck, he grabbed for his sister’s tail with his mouth. But before he could gently grasp it, she lashed it sideways and smacked him over his eye crest.
Slightly dazed, but still coherent, Emberclaw recovered. Her furious flapping did a small amount of good; he was falling faster. Now reaching with his fingers (claws retracted) instead, he managed to grab her tail, spread his wings, and arrest the dive just in time to hit the lake at a less perilous speed. The two dragons still produced considerable splashes (and disrupted a few indignant ducks) before both bobbed to the surface.
“Thanks for that,” Emberclaw muttered, rubbing his forehead.
“Sorry,” said Sheera sheepishly. “I guess I panicked.”
“Even if you’re out of air, you can still glide, remember.”
“I know... it’s just, you know, my book said that dragons should be too big to fly. Because of volume weight, and um, cubes?”
“You didn’t read chapter 2 yet, did you?” Emberclaw asked. Sheera shook her head. “Too big to fly if we weren’t stuffed with hydrogen and hollow bones,” her brother explained. “Besides... you’re still a shrimp. Even a baby wyvern is bigger than you.”
She scowled for a moment, but then looked up at the cliff and grinned. “But I did fly, didn’t I?”
“Yeah... sort of. I guess.”
“Dad says the first time you tried you fell into a thorn bush.”
“That’s not important right now.”
“You did, huh? Did it hurt a lot?”
Emberclaw was spared the need to answer by a reverberating “boom” that shook briefly produced ripples in the lake as it echoed up the river valley.
“What was that?” Sheera pulled herself back onto the shore, climbing up onto a low cliff edge to get a peek down the hogbacks.
“Nitro, probably,” Emberclaw climbed out too, and shook himself off. He glanced up at the sun. “Grugnuts... how long have we been up here, anyway?”
Sheera shrugged. “I dunno... I think it’s after eight.” She paused. “Uh oh.”
“Yeah,” grimaced Emberclaw. “We’re late for chores!”
* * *
The ground was still shaking slightly from the explosion. Grog lay on his back, a cookpot and some assorted odds and ends on top of him. He couldn’t quite remember how he’d gotten there, or why he was covered with dirt, rocks, and debris. Or why his ears were ringing.
Coughing, the big orc blinked his one eye slowly. His brain kicked back into gear. He ran his tongue over his teeth. All still there, including his big lower canines. Groaning a little, he pulled himself to his feet, shook off his longcoat, and checked around. He found his hat in some rocks, shook it off, and put it on.
A mound of dirt next to him stirred. Then it stood up, looking less like a mound of dirt and more like his daughter, Frena, a 19 year old slightly heavy set half-orc girl wearing a leather duster over a v-necked blouse. Her short, violet hair (currently covered in dirt), brushed the top of her coat collar.
Coughing a little, she lifted the goggles from her mismatched eyes. The right was brown. The left was a pale gray, depigmented by the wound that scarred her face from her brow to her left cheek. The nearly identical scar on Grog ran down through his eyepatch. Frena had gotten lucky, her eye still worked. Grog only had one left.
“Did you see that?!” Frena grinned, shaking dust off her coat and hair. A new cloud of debris formed as she did. “And that was only a 60% charge!”
Grog, briefly enveloped (and coughing again) in the new dust cloud, decided now would be a good time to clear his throat with a good belt from his hip flask. “Aye... bit hard to miss, Frenny,” he guzzled a fair swallow. “You all right? Nothin’ broken?”
Frena shook her head, producing more dust. She hopped over the debris field to a large machine lying on its side in the middle of it. “I told you the steam excavator could clear that ten times faster than we could with nitro, didn’t I, Pop?” She leaned over, straining to lift the excavator back to an upright position. It rattled loudly as she succeeded.
Grog nodded. “You did say that. But ya left out th’ part where we’d it’d throw us twenty feet and bury us in the mountain.” He looked around at what was left of their camp, erected near the top of a boulder-strewn dell. A hogback rose up near the western edge, bisecting the trail. To the north, steep paths headed up and down the mountain. To the south was an even steeper edge where Grog had been dumping their slag. Hopefully nothing important had fallen off of that. As it was, cleaning up the camp wasn’t something he was looking forward to.
“Right, well... I may have miscalculated the blowback a little,” Frena shrugged. “Nothing we can’t compensate for in the future, though, right?” A few components fell off the excavator. “After I fix it, anyway.”
Grog shook his head. Then, noting something amiss, he patted the side of his head. A few rocks fell out of the opposite ear. “So... did it really work, or did we just blow up the camp?”
Frena frowned. She looked down toward the mine entrance. The dust was clearing, but it was still rather hard to see anything.
After some searching, they were able to retrieve their unexploded spleunking gear from their spooked but unharmed mule (he’d fortunately only run about a quarter mile downhill). Donning their lights, the two orcs ventured into the mine’s mouth. Grog eyed the ceiling with a small amount of trepidation. He’d spent the last couple weeks shoring it up with timbers and rebar. But now they’d just bombarded the danged thing with what was essentially a steam-powered cannon.
“Relax, Pop,” said Frena. “The cannon’s primary detonation was aimed at the back of the drift. Shouldn’t have affected the walls or ceiling at all.”
“Uh huh. It also wasn’t supposed to blow up our camp.”
“That was just a miscalculation.” She flipped on her headlamp. It flickered with a bluish stream of light as it powered up off her latent magical energy.
Grog powered his up, too, feeling the slight strain of using it. Light enchantments didn’t take much energy from their users when working, but they still took a little. On the other hand, magic lamps didn’t need to be refueled with kerosene, either. He stopped at the edge of the new tunnel the cannon had blasted. A dusting of sparkly bits covered the floor. Checking the ceiling, he whistled.
“That’s a silverite seam,” he grinned. “I wonder how deep it goes...”
“What? Oh, that’s good,” came Frena’s distracted voice from up ahead. “But I think we broke through.”
Grog carefully climbed over some boulders in the way. His spine sent a complaint to his left knee. His left knee concurred. His right hip told them both off. Damn, but he was getting too old for this.
“Damn, but I’m getting too old for this,” he said out loud as he regained the floor.
“You’re not old,” said Frena. “60’s nothing these days.”
“Say that when you get that far,” her father chuckled. “What’d you find?”
Frena aimed her headlamp at the far wall. A crack, about the size of a person, ran across the upper edge of the tunnel. It looked solid black. Grog ventured closer.
Standing at the base of the crack, they could feel a cool breeze wafting from the darkness. The light from their lamps glimmered dimly on a far wall. Somewhere, there was a sound of water.
“It’s the cavern, Dad,” Frena’s face held a wide smile. “Just like Gwarza said. And just like your map. We busted into it.”
Grog shook his head. “Don’t jinx it, kid... this here’s a cave. Big step, but it ain’t the Gauntlet itself. That’s gonna be the hard part. That and making sure Homestake doesn’t go searching it, too. It’s gonna take a bit to expand this...” he turned toward her and frowned at her widening grin. “We can’t use the cannon on this, it might cause a collapse.”
Frena sighed at the sound logic. “Yeah, I guess not. I sure hope Tefrin got that telegram.”
* * *
The Flumet Lake steamer ferry rocked slightly as it bumped into the dock. Tefrin rolled with the pitching deck, though a few of the passengers around him stumbled. He was used to boats.
A slight haze from numerous coal cooking fires clung to the lake waters around Thalagarat. It was thick today, but not so thick as to block the still snowy Barrier Peaks from view as the ten o’ clock sun bathed them in a warm spring glow. The capital city loomed over the center of the lake, the taller buildings of the downtown casting their shadows towards the mountains and across the legions of fishing boats plying the waters.
Several large posters adorned the walls of the dock master’s building. “Fireblood: Verithat of the Future” and “A Champion in the Field, a Champion in Government.” Both posters depicted the dragon with a determined look on his face, gazing off into the distance (or, ostensibly, into the future). Tefrin smiled wryly, shaking his head.
Avoiding the crowd of dock merchants hawking expensive wares (and tourist knick knacks), he took a side street away from the main crowd. After dodging a few street urchins who were most likely pick-pockets, he continued toward downtown. Occasionally looking up to avoid plowing into a wall or streetlamp, he re-read a letter from his pocket.
Dear Tefrin, STOP
I hope this letter reaches you quickly. STOP
Because we’re not sure where to reach you. STOP
But I paid the teleballgrapher a bonus so he
had better do a good job. STOP
He’s nodding at me, so I think that’s good. STOP
Anyway, we’re in Dragon’s Glint, and we
have a lead on IT. STOP
We filed a mining claim, but need more supplies. STOP
Not available locally. Hope in Thalagarat? STOP
List to follow. See you soon! Frena STOP
PS: Dad made me say to bring booze. I think he
has enough. STOP
Wait, HOW much per word? No, don’t
include that. Let me see it. What
do you mean it’s already sent? STOP
The list did follow. Tefrin frowned at it. The determined postal worker who’d managed to find him in in the depths of the Taralon Jungle had also clearly dropped the whole package in a puddle. The watermarks on the letter page were fairly minor, but the list on the next page was washed out completely in some spots. The sixth item was especially hard to read. A... gauge scanner? That couldn’t be right. He mentally counted his funds for these supplies. That job in the Taralon hadn’t been especially lucrative. He’d have to go the discount route.
Tefrin looked up from his list as he neared the Tevulon Enchantment Company Factory Shop (the big ad in the window read “Factory Seconds: Nearly like new for not nearly the retail price!”). Two elf girls paused briefly next to a window in a corridor connected to the shop. The second one, with with reddish hair and glasses briefly looked his direction. Tefrin paused, their eyes met for a moment.
“Buddy, in or out,” an orc grumbled from behind him.
“Sorry,” Tefrin stepped out of the orc’s way with a tip of his hat by apology. He looked back up. The girls were gone. With a small sigh, he stepped into the shop.
A wave of cool air hit him, a considerable relief from the humid heat of the late spring outside. Wet, easterly winds from the Atlas Ocean usually hit the Barrier Peaks in the spring, creating a slowly spinning storm cycle, feeding the massive lake surrounding the pennisula the city was built on. The city was left hot and muggy for months. This year was no exception.
Tefrin doffed his wide-brimmed hat, letting the magically cooled air in the shop dry his sweaty brown hair. A teenage dragon at the counter drummed his claws lazily on the countertop. He gave Tefrin a nod.
“Help you, sir?”
“Yeah, maybe,” Tefrin checked his list again. “You have any idea what a ‘gauge scanner’ might be?”
“Um,” frowned the drake, thinking. “We have a magic field scanner. It has a gauge on it.”
“Hrm,” said Tefrin. “That’s... probably it. And I need an anti-magic containment box, I think, a Hefty Pack, and a pickaxe +1.”
“The scanner’s aisle three,” said the dragon, reaching under the counter. “I’ve got the containment box here. Our backpacks and satchels are on the back wall. Enchanted tools are aisle six.”
“Thanks,” said Tefrin. He found the pickaxes readily enough, locating one with a good balance. He took a few minutes staring at two different field scanners, settling on the short range, somewhat more affordable one. Grabbing a pack from the back wall (you could stuff a cheap Hefty Pack with 50 pounds of gear and only feel like you were carrying 10. Tefrin had had one before, but a hungry dactyl in the jungle had ripped out the bottom), he headed back for the counter.
“Treasure hunting?” asked the clerk, ringing up the items.
“I guess you could say that,” said Tefrin. “This scanner... it picks up signals from dormant magical items, right?”
“Yeah, the more heavily enchanted ones, anyway. You’d need the bigger model for something like that pickaxe or the backpack. That little scanner won’t even register things that weak if they’re not in active use.”
Tefrin nodded. “No, that makes this perfect, then.”
“Looking for something powerful, huh?”
“Sorry, just curious. Folks don’t buy those things very often. Might’ve been more popular before enchantments got cheap. My gramps talks about those days, anyway. Oh, I need an I.D. for the anti-magic box.”
“S’all right.” Tefrin produced his identification. “Just mining out west. Needed some gear they ain’t got out there.”
“You taking the train? I hear they’ve laid track past Surprise City now. Oh wow, you’re a veteran, huh? That’s 10% off.” He handed Tefrin’s card back. “You see a lot of action?”
“Some.” He pulled out his wallet. “How much?”
The dragon gave Tefrin a disappointed look at the evasive answer, but turned back to his register. “Lessee... $55.86 with tax.”
Tefrin rummaged in his wallet, counting up sixty listras between new-fangled paper bills and several gold coins. The billfold was getting distressingly light. “Sales tax is gettin’ high.”
“Yeah,” the drake grimaced. “It’s supposed to be temporary while they revitalize the waterfront district.”
Tefrin nodded his thanks and headed back for the street, stuffing his purchases into the extra-dimensional storage space of the Hefty Pack. He still needed to buy a train ticket and send a return telegram, if he had enough left. He cocked his head, noticing his new pickaxe had a chink missing from the pry blade. He checked his receipt. “No refunds on factory seconds.”
“Grugnuts,” he mumbled.
Tevulon Enchantment Company’s
Greetings, new employee! We greatly value your contribution to this company and welcome you to the Tevulon Family.
It is highly important that you understand your duties and responsibilities in your new job, and also practice proper workplace safety. A responsible enchanting line is a SAFE enchanting line.
Item 1: Assembly Line Procedures
If your new job requires assembly line enchanting, then congratulations! You are a budding new wizard. And you will greatly enjoy casting the same spell over and over and over on the high-quality mass-produced equipment rolling down the assembly line every day!
Important Safety Instructions:
- Never cast Area of Effect (AoE) spells for enchanting purposes without a proper anti-magic field extending at least 5 feet in all directions of your target.
- Only use approved Enchanting Spells (as provided in the Artificer’s Handbook).
- Do not cast Electrical Spells into the plumbing system.
- In the event you cause an Ambient Mana Detonation, please collect your things because you are fired (if you are still alive.) The costs of the items you have destroyed will be deducted from your last paycheck.
Item 2: The Tevulon Enchantment Rating System™
It is important that you understand the protocol for different kinds of items, and also have a firm grasp of the Tevulon Enchantment Rating System™.
Thanks to the Tevulon Standards Guarantee™ (and the Enchantment Starndarization Act), our premiere Rating System has now replaced Gromkin’s as the standard in all magical field research!
Tevulon items are rated in power from +1 to +5 for standard magical effects (see the Artificer’s Handbook). Specialized items from our Prime catalog may be rated higher.
Important Safety Tip:
- Never attempt to enhance any item with a single standard effect greater than +5 if you firmly appreciate retaining all your limbs.
Non-standard effects are known by their effect type, with a modifier:
- “Small” denotes a weak effect.
- “Medium” denotes a medium effect.
- “High” denotes maxium effect.
- “Burst” indicates an effect that will detonate on very successful blows.
A +5 small burst fire long sword, then, of course, is a strongly enhanced fire sword with a weak fire effect that can also fire burst.
All effects are also rated by the Tevulon Standard™. Consult the Artificer’s Handbook for precise levels.
Important Safety Tip:
- Never exceed a +15 rating on a single item if you do not wish your skin to melt off. Use the special, sealed safety chambers for all ratings over +5!
Item 3: Enchantments on non-Magi-Tech Items
Tevulon recognizes the recent developments in non-Magic equipment (otherwise known as “mechanical engineering”), and wishes to encourage enchanting these objects anyway.
It should be noted, however, that the effects of enchanting gunpowder or steam-based technologies can be somewhat more unpredictable than the standard leathers and metals we at Tevulon have been expertly enchanting since 2965.
Important Safety Tip:
- Never attempt to enchant gunpowder or steam-based equipment on the assembly line. It could be bad.
Tevulon supports special Test Chambers for our most senior enchanters to experiment with this form of gear. Spellbombs are only the first of the new technologies to emerge from these chambers. Will you be the next enchanter to make us a whole ton of listras? Only time will tell!
(any and all new technologies disccovered by Tevulon employees while working for the Tevulon Enchantment Company belong to the Tevulon Enchantment Company)
The Tevulon Enchantment Company:
“Making Our Tomorrows Today!”