The Snake and the Mirror

Artifice

October 12th, 2024

 

“You sure this is the place?” Rosa asked, looking at the drawn door of what looked like a run-down old garage.

“It is indeed,” Angel, the black-haired and winged wolf girl at her side nodded. “Though I must remind you again that it’s unlikely he’ll help.”

“Well, it’s worth a shot,” Rosa said. “Besides, I need every edge I can get and you said he was the best in the city.”

“Unquestionably,” Angel nodded. “Though he is also…temperamental.”

Rosa snorted. “Welcome to the club.”

Without another word, she banged loudly on the metal door of the garage. “Anybody home!?”

Angel rolled her eyes before stepping past her. “Honestly, that’s not going to work either.”

Angel placed a gloved hand on the metal of the door and from where her fingers touched the surface long ornate lines of light began to spread and curl from her hand. The pattern spread, formed, and twisted into the image of a doorway illuminated on the surface of the metal door.

“He’s been busy,” Angel said quietly, and when the pattern had drawn itself completely, the metal outlined as a doorway slid open to invite them inside.

Rosa, frowning, decided to let Angel lead before following her inside the garage.

Inside was a workshop and forge far too large to have fit in the confines of the small garage. Numerous workbenches and drawing tables were scattered about and countless tools hung from bands on the ceiling, with supplies filling shelves, drawers, and barrels covering the walls until there was hardly room to maneuver. The entire place was slightly dark, illuminated mostly by several bright spotlights and the dull orange glow of the slumbering forge.

“Ilmarinen?” Angel called into the semi-darkness. “I’m here for maintenance, and I brought a guest.”

Rosa almost jumped when she saw a figure her eyes had missed rise from where he had been slumped over a drafting table and turn to face them. He was taller than average, well over six feet, with a lanky build and snow white hair over a young but stress-lined face. Despite his thin appearance, his hands and arms revealed by his rolled up sleeves were tanned and brawny, belying a strength that he didn’t make immediately apparent.

“Angel, lovely as ever. And who’s this?” He asked, stepping forward as he examined them both.

“Rosaria Kokinos,” Angel said as Rosa gave a relaxed wave. “A…student of Capitolina’s, as well as Champion of Ares.”

Rosa saw Ilmarinen’s face falter at the name, not that she could blame him.

“This,” Angel said, addressing Rosa. “Is Ilmarinen, a god of artifice from Finland.”

“Nice to meet ya,” Rosa said. “Angel says you build things.”

“S’what artifice means, kid,” Ilmarinen said. “Angel if you could get up on the examining table. Let’s see how that arm is doing.”

Angel nodded and stepped over to what looked like a cross between a work bench and a doctor’s examining table. She stripped off her gloves, jacket, and scarf leaving her dressed in a thin undershirt over pants, and Rosa couldn’t help but stare at the artificial arm affixed to her shoulder. It was a marvel of engineering, a combination of ebon black and silvery metal, woven together like bone and sinew into a skeletal hand that moved smoothly and soundlessly. The modifications didn’t end at her arm either, as Rosa could see hints of metal protruding from her ribs and spine, and likely her legs as well.

As she watched, Ilmarinen moved to Angel and began examining her arm closely, testing its range of movement and the smoothness of its part, a silver rod in his hand that seemed to change its shape and purpose to whatever tool he needed.

Rosa watched for a few minutes, letting the pair work largely in silence. When they did speak, it was generally brief and awkwardly, and Rosa could sense some kind of tension between the two of them.

“So if you make things,” Rosa eventually spoke up, though Ilmarinen simply continued to work. “Could you improve the artifacts other gods give champions?”

“Hypothetically,” Ilmarinen shrugged, not looking up from where he worked on Angel’s arm. “Most gods don’t know much about proper forging. I might be able to make some modifications.”

“Cool,” Rosa said. “Cause I have this spear from Ares that…”

Ilmarinen clicked his tongue, cutting her off. “Better luck elsewhere, Red. I don’t do weapons anymore.”

Rosa frowned. “Seriously? I’ m not like a…well, I use it for good or for the defense of Rome and stuff. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing in principle,” Ilmarinen said. “Just a policy of mine. Don’t do weapons.”

“You fixed Angel,” Rosa said. “Bet an arm like that could punch through a brick wall, doesn’t that count as a weapon?”

Rosa saw both Ilmarinen and Angel visibly stiffen, and this time the god did turn to face her, and Rosa began to feel just what it meant to argue with the divine.

“Look girl.” Ilmarinen said. “I saved Angel’s life and even then it…didn’t quite work out how either of us might have wanted it to. Now I’m not going to touch your spear, especially not one made by a god as blood-hungry as Ares, got it?”

“G-got it…” Rosa said, swallowing her mixed frustration and fear. Ilmarinen might not be as naturally intimidating as Ares, but he was a god, and she was still only mortal.

“…Got anyone else I can go to?” She decided to try her luck, even though she could tell Ilmarinen’s patience was wearing thin.

“If you’re looking for someone like that, and it’ll get you out of my hair, then try the girl near the temple. Blonde. Goes by Metaxes. Shouldn’t be hard to find.”

“Got it,” Rosa said, not wanting to stick around much longer. She swiftly made her exit out the door and saw the lines of light vanish from the surface.

“Grumpy old bastard,” she muttered to herself as she left, hurrying in case the Finnish god’s divine ears were still listening.

 

 

All told, it took her about three hours to find the woman going by the name of Evangeline Metaxes. She was apparently a popular figure around the Temple of Rome, and also the Champion of Hephaestus. Rosa would have preferred an out-and-out god fixed up her weapons, but she supposed beggars couldn’t be choosers.

After some asking around, she had tracked Evangeline down to a two-story flat with the bottom floor converted into a workshop. It was impressively at odds with Ilmarinen’s magic forge, being much smaller and more cramped, with piles of papers and scrapped designs mixing with dust in the corners, as well of drawers of far more mundane materials half-open and rimmed with soot and powders.

“Hello?” Rosa called out as she entered the open garage-style door, this one lacking any kind of magic entrance.

“Hello!” Called down a cheerful voice as Rosa heard the sounds of someone maneuvering down a flight of wooden stairs with some difficulty. Soon at the base of the stairs appeared a woman around Rosa’s own age. She was, to Rosa’s surprise, quite different than how she had expected a Champion of the Forge to look.

She had expected someone tall, broad, and brawny, but Evangeline seemed…too thin. She wasn’t entirely thin, being very curved in certain places Rosa was quick to notice, but she seemed better suited to being the Champion of Aphrodite than the champion of a forge god. The only oddity was her walking with a pronounced limp, enough for her to require a cane. She was otherwise intensely beautiful, particularly her round heart-shaped face beneath a head of straw blonde hair kept tied up neatly at the back of her head.

She wasn’t even dressed for the job, her buttoned shirt and pants looking almost immaculate, and her neck and wrists adorned with gold necklaces and bracelets.

“Evangeline Metaxes?” Rosa asked, still not entirely convinced.

“The one and only”, Evangeline smiled warmly, extending her free hand as she rested on her cane. “And you are…?”

“Rosaria Kokinos,” Rosa said, firmly taking the hand, and she was surprised to feel an intense strength in her grip.

“Ahhh the Champion of Ares,” Evangeline smiled. “I was wondering when I might get a visit from you.”

“I was wondering if…”

“You were wondering if I could improve your weapons and armor?” Evangeline cut her off. Still smiling “Well I won’t know for sure unless I see it, will I?”

“Er…right,” A bit caught off guard, Rosa summoned her spear into her hand as her armor appeared across her body. She left the spear on a nearby table as she stripped off the thick bronze and gold armor, giving Evangeline a chance to look it over.

“Fascinating…” She marveled, and Rosa did a double take as she saw what she had taken to be jewelry around her wrists and neck scuttled to life, moving over her body like insects as they combined, split, and reformed. As she watched, one curled itself into a hand lens that Evangeline lifted to her eye to examine the spear more closely.

“Quite interesting.”

Rosa laid her armor out on the table beside her spear, feeling a little exposed. Without the armor she was dressed in little more than a padded sleeveless shirt and a skirt, neither of which were ever really her style.

“What’s so interesting? Anything you can do?”

“Well first of all, yes, I can be of service to you,” Evangeline said. “Secondly, it confirms my suspicions that while war gods are good at using weapons, they’re not particularly good at making them.”

Rosa couldn’t help but snort. “So what do ya need to make this thing even sharper?”

“Well improving a divine weapon is a…complicated procedure,” Evangeline said, putting down the lens as she rested on her cane. Rosa glanced at the hand lens and saw it reform into a tiny gold beetle and scurry out of sight.

“See, a weapon like that spear isn’t really forged out of metal, it’s made of ideas.”

Rosa frowned, tapping the head of the spear with her finger. “Kind of feels like metal to me.”

“Well yes, of course it’s metal to us,” Evangeline said. “But gods are creatures of spirit and ideas, they don’t work in real metals, but in ideas that take the shape of metal. Did you ever read the Iliad?”

“Mmm, skimmed it,” Rosa shrugged.

“Well, Homer goes into quite a bit of detail on the shield of Achilles,” Evangeline said. “The Shield is not described in terms of metal, but in terms of the imagery and the potential for meaning. Achilles’ shield bore the very image of a microcosm, as if he carried an entire world’s worth of ideas in that one shield. The relationship between life and death, war and peace, civilization and destruction, all carved into a single circle of metal. It’s little wonder that a shield with such conceptual power was indestructible.”

“So my spear’s concept is…what?” Rosa asked.

“You have to ask?” Evangeline looked at her curiously. “Your spear is war and violence born out in metal shape. With the right training I can see it as clear as the Spartan Lambda on your armor. Speaking of which…your armor is very rudimentary. It’s the idea of ‘protection’ crafted rather crudely into bronze and gold…Ares is not one for subtlety or complexity is he?”

“No, not even a little,” Rosa frowned. “So how do you go about improving it?”

“As one can sharpen a blade so to can one focus an idea,” Evangeline said. “I have enough training to hone something like your spear into a more noble or more violent weapon. I’m just an artificer, to me it’s not my job to judge on how a thing I make is used, so before I can start improving this weapon, I need you to tell me what you want out of it. It’s not just about what the spear can do, I need to know what you plan to do with the spear.”

“Hmmm…” Rosa fell silent as she began to think. “I think…that spear was made with only one thing in mind: to kill.”

“That’s about right,” Evangeline said. “It is a rather savage spear in that respect.”

“I want something more trained,” Rosa said. “Something that can lash out with more than just violence. I want a spear that can…protect as well as destroy. One where I can aim where all that wrath is going.”

Evangeline smiled at her. “I think I can arrange something like that, though I’ll need you around for help on it.

“Right,” Rosa nodded. “I’ll be around but…hey can I ask you something?”

“By all means,” Evangeline nodded. “What is it?”

“You seem a bit…well umm…”

“Unusual?” Evangeline smiled mischievously. “Unorthodox? Not what I appear?”

“…Too hot for the job,” Rosa settled on. “Like I expected a burly amazon with an arm like a tree, not a lingerie model.”

“I actually used to model while I was getting my Masters in mechanical engineering,” Evangeline chuckled. “Not lingerie though.”

Rosa clicked her tongue in disappointment.

“Either way, what got you the job?”

“Well I have a mind for machines, always have,” Evangeline said. “Though not really the forging process. That part came after Hephaestus offered me the job.”

“And what convinced him to…wait…” Rosa’s brow furrowed. “Did Hephaestus offer you the job because you were hot?”

“If I said that had nothing to do with it, I’d probably be lying.” Evangeline shrugged. “Not like I was advertising it though. He is a touch lonely and not great with women. I’m not surprised he might have given me a long look…that said…”

Evangeline rested one hand on the table as she pointed her cane at Rosaria. “I am every bit qualified for this job, Miss Kokinos. Try to imply I got it for my looks alone and I will show you just how wrong you are, Champion of Ares or not.”

Rosa raised her hands in submission. “Look you got it, whatever you say.”

“That said, it did have its downsides,” Evangeline said. “Hephaestus picking me did not endear me to a certain Goddess of Love.”

“Ah…right, I suspect not,” Rosa said. Aphrodite was not known to tolerate other beautiful things.

“So she set about making sure I was very visibly imperfect,” Evangeline tapped her lame leg with her cane.

“Wait…so Aphrodite made you a cripple? Out of jealousy?” Rosa asked incredulously.

“I am most assuredly not a ‘cripple’,” Evangeline said, losing her smile for a moment. “I am somewhat disabled but perfectly functional in all aspects of life, even if I’m not running any marathons.”

“Right…sorry,” Rosa said sheepishly. “I meant more…Aphrodite’s kind of a bitch.”

“Well on that I agree, if not necessarily in your vocabulary,” Evangeline’s smile returned. “But I like to think of it as a…badge of office. I’m even more like my boss now.”

“Heh, sounds about right,” Rosa said. “Though I’d like to be as little like my patron as I can.”

“Understandable,” Evangeline nodded. “You know, I think talking to you like this will help a lot when we’re reworking your artifacts. Would you mind coming around a few times a week? Or maybe I can come to you?”

“Sure,” Rosa shrugged. “I’m pretty free. I train with Hildegard and Cat most mornings and I have a lot of lessons with Capitolina, but I can make time.”

“Excellent,” Evangeline smiled. “Well then not to be cliché but I think this might be the start of a beautiful friendship.”

Rosa chuckled. “Don’t get sappy on me, but I wouldn’t mind hanging around you.”

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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