Soot, Steel, and Stories
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Soot, Steel, and Stories

All buildings in the city of Raven were cut from the stone surrounding the basin. Massive blocks of granite, hewn into precise dimensions and stacked with great precision and care against iron support beams, made up the bulk of the city center. The exception to this rule would be the massive ironworks set directly in the middle of the city. The hulking monolith ascended higher into the sky than even the gargantuan ribs which flanked it, the smokestack itself rivaled the mountains between which it was nestled.

Where other cities pump water and gas to homes, the city of Raven used its massive ironworks to send a lifesaving flow of molten iron, copper, and steel from the massive array of furnaces in its core to the homes and businesses surrounding it. Crossing the city streets like telephone wires, channels of molten metal gurgled and sparked, occasionally showering the streets with small droplets of the liquid. Under each channel, the street was shiny with years and years of metal drops falling like rain above them.

The people didn’t mind. All they cared about was the heat radiated by the flow drove the bite of the cold wind away. In each street, merchants, wanderers, and workers would congregate on the metal-coated streets under these channels, feeling the warmth wash over them as they sat and talked. C. L. Atlas discovered this tradition himself, as he leaned against a wall fed with heat by a channel. Relaxing in this newfound warmth, he nearly forgot why he was here in the first place. When, eventually, he did remember, he begrudgingly picked himself up. As he lifted himself to his feet, one could almost hear him creak a little, as he though:

“These old bones have a little fight left in them. Can feel the trail catching up to me, though. Better be worth it.”

He found himself at his destination shortly. A tall, narrow stone structure, obviously carved with much skill, was tucked between the street corner and the massive library. This was the place that Valentina had written about in her journal. Though he was getting older, wiser, and overall slowing down, Atlas’ mind still raced with the potential this location could have. He pushed open the well-balanced iron door, and stepped inside.

A gruff voice called out to him from the interior.

“Come in! Welcome to the general store. What are you looking for?”

“I’m looking for information. To whom do I owe the pleasure?” Atlas replied, in an equally gravelly voice, damaged from the cold.

A man, clothed in grease-stained overalls and a blacksmith's apron strode out from a back room. He stood nearly as tall as Atlas himself. This may have been rare in other settlements, but in Raven the blood of giants ran within almost every man, woman, and child. He stepped behind the counter of the store, a sparse but hardy selection laid out behind him.

“Abraham. What kind of information are you looking for? Can’t say it’s often someone comes in with pockets filled with questions and not coin.”

Atlas drew his notebook from his pocket. What was coming next could be very valuable to him, and he did not intend to miss any potential detail.

“What do you know about Lieutenant Valentina Eckhart, of Tuskini?” Atlas inquired.

Abraham stood for a moment.

“Valentina, Valentina, Val…” his voice trailed off, “Yes! I remember her. My goodness, it’s been, what, four years? Well, if it’s important to you. I really didn’t know her. She came in one winter evening, chilled to the bone, poor thing. She didn’t seem to react, though. Real pale looking, almost deathly. She came in just to buy a coat, but I just couldn’t charge her. I gave her my daughter’s old coat. She doesn’t need it anymore. I'm still a bit confused by her. Someone so fragile looking, I could see her fingers blackening in the cold. But she didn't react at all. Not even an acknowledgement. She must have been of some hardy stock. I hardly know anyone, even here, who could shrug off frostbite like that. She looked like Tuskini material, but far too pale. I suppose I have other theories, but I mustn't speak of them in pleasant company.”

Atlas nodded in understanding. He knew to what he was referring, and by reading her journal, he knew of her transformation into something more than human.

“Did she tell you where she was going?”

Abraham shrugged.

“She never said. I think she stopped by the library right next door. Before you go: I remember one more thing. She had a silver ring on. Not too noteworthy on its own, but around the ring, her veins looked like they were silver too. Maybe you know what that means?”

Atlas, crestfallen as he was, had no more questions for the man. He nodded to Abraham, and turned to leave. As he began to walk towards the door, though, a stray piece of paper caught his eye. It was yellowed by age and weather, hidden in a crevasse in the stone walls. Intrigued, he opened and scanned the folded page. Seeing the name Valentina at the top of the page, he knew he had come to the right place.

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