Chapter 1: Sparksburg
Sparksburg is that awkward size between a town and a city, nestled just off one of the busier trade routes - a perfect place for tourism and well under the Baron’s protection, so safe enough to travel to. Sorin plans to stop for a few weeks at most to refuel and maybe pick up some work here and there to boost his coffers - but not too long, a place like this will have it’s own smithies who probably won’t appreciate someone muscling in. If he’s lucky, some of them won’t mind teaching him something. He hasn’t officially contacted anyone here about learning, because he doesn’t plan to stop here long - a bustling tourist city like Sparksburg will have most of the smithies busy with either knickknacks, noble patrons or outsourced work for the local spark. Lord Andrus Dalca if Sorin remembers correctly. Admittedly the last two could be interesting, but neither sparks nor patrons would tend to chance things on newcomers, and Sorin was travelling, not settling down and looking to build up a reputation.
Except when he actually reaches Sparksburg, it’s not really as he expected.
The guards on the gate pull him over, ask his business. They’re pleasant enough about it, but Sorin picks up an undercurrent of worry, of suspicion. Still, they let him through after a cursory inspection of his things. Tell him to keep to Lowtown, not bother those in Hightown unless invited. Give him the address of an inn who might be able to give him information about work.
Lowtown is...well. In the nicest way, it’s a dump. Sorin passes abandoned buildings almost more than he passes inhabited ones. People are around but they don’t stop and chat to each other, and they keep moving constantly. It raises flags. Big ones. True, it becomes less bad as he progresses into the city, but by the time he reaches the inn, Sorin is sure that something is going on here.
Of course, the posters have helped confirm that suspicion. Plastered among faded posters and advertisements, in big block red lettering and thick parchment that’s been coated with something to keep it pristine, are wanted posters for ‘a rogue spark’. There’s no picture, but there’s a short description and reward amount that’s almost ridiculous. It’s also stamped with a seal of Lord Andrei Dalca, not Andrus Dalca.
When he ducks into the inn, the atmosphere is a little better - or at least livelier. People are drinking in groups, laughter in the air. Darts-players congregate round a well-peppered target, and barmaids in fluffy skirts dispense drinks to the crowd. At the back booths a well-muscled man with a mechanical arm laughs loudly as he manhandles a barmaid, who’s eyes are bright with a smile on her face. Behind the bar a more matronly woman banters with customers, dispensing drinks as she does so. Glances flicker towards and then away from Sorin, though a few cast longer glances.
He heads to the bar, smiles at the bartender as she bustles over. She smiles back but it’s tired around the eyes.
“What can I get you?”
“A half-pint, please.”
Sorin slid the appropriate change in coin across the counter. The women eyed it.
“Not from around here, huh?”
“No, just passing through. I was hoping to pick up some work whilst I was here, though.”
“What’s your trade, handsome?”
“Uh. I’m a blacksmith? I also do farrier-work for horses - “
The woman snorts and her eyes crinkle as real amusement crosses her face.
“Well there’s not many horses left now that - “
A tense moment. Eyes turn to the bartender, hands grip tighter to tables, to drinks. Catching herself, she continues.
“- now. But in terms of blacksmithing, we’re short a few. Talk to Shackleton. Big guy at the back, mechnical arm.”
Sorin tips his drink in thanks, and sips it thoughtfully. It looked like he might be staying here a bit longer - or a bit shorter - than initially planned. Depending what was happening, it seemed like it’d be another case of messaging someone. His face twitched, but he didn’t allow the scowl to form.
Mug drained slightly, enough so it wouldn’t spill over the sides, he picked his way across the room to Shackleton. On seeing him approach, the larger man gently deposited the lady who was sprawled across him onto her feet.
“Catch you later, Marie. Give my best wishes to Frank and the kids.”
The barmaid smiled and nodded before collecting a few empty mugs and ducking behind the counter.
Shackleton smiles back and when he turns to Sorin he is still smiling but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. There’s a wariness there, even as he extends his mottled arm for a handshake. Sorin takes it, feels the calluses that match his own grate against the rough skin of his palms.
“Shackleton, though I go by Shacks for short. Reckon old Marie sent you over about Blacksmithin’, eh?”
Sorin nods, offers a smile of his own, and meets Shacks’s gaze without flinching.
“Sorin, and yes.”
“Excellent. A pleasure to meet you. I used to be the main blacksmith around these parts before..well.”
Shackleton waves his mechanical arm in the air in lieu of an explanation, and now Sorin looks closer at it the skin is still raw and puckered at the connecting seam, the shiny pink of healing. It’s a smooth scar though, the line of a blade not a burn. Interesting.
“...so now my forge is lying mostly empty. Got a couple of apprentices in sometimes, but the forge is big enough for you to use it too, and they only do every other day.”
“I’m alright for a forge, I just need somewhere to work with a water source and somewhere where I won’t be stepping on people’s toes.”
The big guy frowns.
“If you’ve already got an agreement with someone to work their forge-”
Sorin shakes his head.
“I’ve got a portable forge.”
The bar quietens again as Shackleton leans forward and speaks in a very different tone.
“You’re a spark?”
“No, though the forge is sparkwork.”
The noise resumes. Shacks shakes his head and breathes out, flesh hand rubbing his metal one. He doesn’t say anything, but Sorin is increasingly concerned.
“In which case, there’s a yard ‘bout half a block away - it’s got a well and plenty of space.”
Shackleton seems almost...curt with him now, the initial friendliness replaced by wariness. Still, he wishes Sorin well, and tells him that he’ll put the word out to those looking for smithwork. Interestingly, he does drop an offhand comment about staying away from Hightown.
Yes, Sorin mused as he trundled down the street with the lava engine in tow, watching the inhabitants scurry away or slip into alleyways as he passed, he was definitely going to have to keep an eye on this town.
Unseen by Sorin, a rat scurries from under the lava engine into an alleyway, where it squeaks frantically as it’s picked up by a cloaked figure. The figure soothes the creature, listens to its report, and places it back down with a morsel of biscuit before melting back into the shadows.
Chapter 2: The Yard, Sparksburg
There's more demand for a blacksmith then one might think.
Sorin half-expected that with the wariness the townsfolk had displayed he’d have no work to do. He couldn’t have been more wrong. He was almost overwhelmed. There’d been a line outside the forge by the second day. A line. For basic (mostly) smithy work. And oh he’d picked up enough coin to fund his travels for a good time, and the information he’d gathered far more valuable. But still. Phew. He was glad for the way it’d gradually tapered off.
As he sat down to continue writing his letter to the Baron, he tapped the pen against his teeth. How to put this. Dear Ser, the townsfolk are terrified of their spark, he appears to be kidnapping them and blaming it on a rogue spark who I’m not entirely convinced actually exists. Also he’s shit at managing a city, and I say this from a place of experience.
Now, to word it so it was formal instead of sounding like it was a letter to Veli. Hm. Thinking of Veli, he should really write to him again. A soft smile graced Sorin’s features as he thought of his partner, before he started to write, pen scratching against the paper. The soft scraping was the only sound for a while, until he heard the sound of the bell at the gate ringing. He’d rigged up the bell shortly after arriving so he could hear when customers entered the yard, rather than risk them surprising him at the forge.
He packed away the writing, and turned just as a cloaked figure entered the yard and dumped daggers on the table in front of him.
“Can you fix these?”
The voice was pitched low - an attempt, Sorin suspected, combined with the figure’s height and breadth, to seem older.
“Let me take a look.”
Sorin drew the daggers towards him and began to examine them. His brow furrowed.
“These are sparkwork.”
The kid in front of him tensed, and there was a strange sound, almost like rattling. Sorin sighed, and leant back, keeping his hands in view.
“Kid, I can’t fix sparkwork, and judging from the attitudes in town currently, you don’t want to be taking them to any smith here.”
“I’m not stupid, that’s why I brought them to the out of towner. And the spark bits work fine, it’s just the balance is off so I overextend when I fight, which leaves me open.”
Sorin didn’t want to think about why a child knew that much about fighting. The letter to the Baron was getting more and more urgent by the minute if the Lord was making child soldiers. But….if he was the one making these daggers, he’d surely fix them for his troops. And looking at the daggers, they looked….well, every spark had a signature, and what little Sorin had seen of Dalca’s work….this didn’t match it. He lifted the daggers, testing the balance. They were a little hilt-heavy, but Sorin suspected that was because of the mechanisms. The blade itself was a strange thing, something he hadn’t seen before.
“I haven’t worked with this metal before. I’m not even sure it IS metal. I wouldn’t know how to help you even if I wanted to arm children.”
The figure exhaled, and rubbed at it’s hidden face sounding beyond tired. The pitch of their face was far more natural this time - and young.
“Shit. Thanks anyway.”
When he held out his hand for the daggers to be returned, Sorin mostly saw bandages, only his fingertips revealed.
“....Kid, why do you need these?”
The figure - the child - stiffens, and there’s that odd rattle again. Sorin really, really hopes that’s a bell or something, an accessory, and not that someone’s been experimenting on children.
“Do you ask every customer why they need weapons?”
“No, but most customers aren’t children who sneak in at dusk with sparkwork daggers that aren’t made by Dalca.”
What was stiff become almost frozen, and Sorin doesn’t have to be a mindreader to know that the kid must be panicking, and is probably considering either fleeing or attacking.
“Breathe. I’m not going to turn you in.”
“-what? Have you seen the amount of gold that asshole’s got on our heads? You’re telling me you’d give that up for some - some - some kid you’ve never met?”
Sorin’s not going to be able to convince him by telling him the truth, so he goes with a half-truth, enough that a frightened, jaded child would believe it.
“I’ll give it up for information. Something is seriously wrong in this city, and you’re the first person I’ve met who seems to know anything about what’s going on.”
There’s a sigh, and the hooded figure seems to make a decision. The bandaged hands come up to pull the hood back, revealing a redhead with some deep bruising round an eye socket, a split lip and a scabbed laceration on his cheek.
He looks no older than thirteen - fourteen at the most. Sorin’s heart clenches in his chest as he takes in the set of the kid’s jaw. He’s seen soldiers with less fire in their eyes than this kid has. What’s been happening in this town that a child - a /child/ for gods sake, would look like this?
“Kid - “
“Dezso then. What’s going on?”
The boy pauses, runs a hand through his hair and tugs on it whilst eyeing Sorin.
“You know that it’s Andrei now?” Then, barely waiting for Sorin to respond, he continues. “Well Asshole-Andrei decided to enact a bunch of new laws. The town’s been going downhill ever since. He tortures and kills anyone who breaks through in his territory, and he’s been experimenting on the citizens. And whilst he faffs about in his lab, the rest of the nobles are gouging us for all they’re worth. That’s not to mention the gangs.”
Sorin revises his estimate of how urgently the Baron’s attention is needed. This whole thing has been a ride from start to finish that’s for sure. But there’s something else going on here, something Dezso’s not telling him. And there’s the issue of the daggers - if they’ve not been made recently, and by that ‘rogue spark’ - Sorin will eat Veli’s hat.
“So why don’t you leave?”
“......we tried. No caravan would take us beforehand, and after….afterwards who’s going to risk their lives for us?”
Sorin keeps his breathing calm, his face passive. He keeps his grip on the table light. He knows if he spooks the boy he’ll lose any chance of helping him - or the city.
“Right. Let’s get you and your sparky friend out the city, and then we’ll sort out dealing with Dalca.”
Sorin stands up, passes the daggers back to Dezso. Or tries to. Dezso is just staring at him, the beginning of tears in his eyes. He blinks them back though, taking the daggers and storing them in that cloak of his.
“This way, Blacksmith.”
“Sorin. It’s Sorin.”
“This way, Sorin.”
Chapter 3: Hideout, Sparksburg
Home sweet home.
Dezso bites his lip, worrying it between his teeth. It’s hidden by his hood, which he’s flicked up again now that they’re out of the relative safety of the out-of-towners weird portable forge. Which is definitely sparkwork if Dezso is familiar with it, and, surprise, Dezso is intimately familiar with sparkwork being as his stupid crazy little brother turned out sparky. Dezso’s breathing rate increases. What is he doing, pinning his hopes on this out-of-towner? This...Sorin. He doesn’t know anything about this guy, he doesn’t - except….he does, kind of. He’s been watching Sorin, been picking up information about him, and he seems...good.
Dezso doesn’t bestow that label easily. He’s met few people he’d classify as good in his lifetime, and they’ve all had faults. He doesn’t doubt that Sorin has his flaws either, but...he’s been kind and patient with his customers. His information gathering - because Dezso recognises that at least - has been subtle, and he hasn’t tortured anyone for it. And mostly, Dezso admits to himself, he’s offered to take them out the city. Dezso would kill for that. Has, really. He doubts that some of the injuries in that fight left the other gang members alive. And that was only for a chance. (He tries not to think about that, though. It wasn’t supposed to be a fight to the death. He’d thought - he’d thought they were just going to scrap. He’d been naive.)
When they get within a few blocks of the hideout, Dezso kneels down, clicks in the back of his throat. Two rats come scuttling out, followed by a mangy dog with raggedy ears and scars. Sorin steps forward a little when the dog lurches out but Dezso waves a hand at him to reassure that despite his ferocious appearance, he’s a sweetheart. And he is, bathing Dezso’s face in licks whilst the rats squeak happily as Dezso tickles them. He’s not fond of animals as a rule, but these are different, these are his brothers….constructs, he guesses.
He tries not to think about that too much. To be honest, he tries not to think about the fact that he’s probably de-facto a construct of his brother now. Not that he feels much like a minion or a construct, more like a keeper a guardian the older twin who fuckin’ failed at protected his dumb younger brother and he needs to breathe, he needs to keep breathing because if he dies then there’s nobody left to get Kasper OUT.
Sorin’s hand is on his back how did it get there, and Sorin is making soothing noises and for fuck’s sake he’s not the child he appears to be but sometimes - sometimes it would be real nice if someone else could take care of things so even though he rattles his tail warningly his hand clutches at Sorin somewhat desperately.
They stay like that for a few minutes, Sorin just. Letting him clutch to him and breathe whilst the animals crowd him comfortingly.
Eventually Dezso rights himself. He wipes the snot and tears on his raggedy sleeve and hitches up his metaphorical britches. Time to let the sparks fly. (heh.) He eyes the entrance he’s been using to get into the abandoned building. There….is no way Sorin is going to fit through there. It’s not exactly large, and Sorin is equipped with muscles.
They’d be better off trying to get in through the front door if it wasn’t trapped to all heck.
“Um. I don’t think you’re going to fit through there, so go round to the front. Don’t try and go in until I come get you, though.”
Sorin looks like he desperately wants to say something, and is barely holding it back. Dezso flees before whatever he was going to say is said, though, wriggling through the hole in the wall, then pulling himself up through the foundations until he spills out into the first floor where they’ve been hiding. A raccoon chirps lazily at him from where it’s curled up with his brother. Kasper’s chest rises and falls in the rhythm of sleep, and part of Dezso wishes he didn’t have to wake him. He’s not been sleeping enough lately. He’s not been eating enough either, but that’s a problem they’ve had for years upon years, the sleep problem is new.
Along with you know, all the other problems.
He flicks off a makeshit bunsen burner left on, and carefully picks his way past the detritus of discarded stuff that litters the floor.
His voice is soft, but Kasper blinks awake quickly, rubbing sleep from his eyes as he looks at his brother.
“Des? Do we have to move again?”
“Nah, but I need you to untrap the door. I brought a friend.”
Kasper’s expression goes from sleepy to flat-faced disbelief in a microsecond.
Never let it be said that Dezso is immature, but he did stick out his tongue in response.
“His name’s Sorin, and he says he’s going to get us out the city.”
Dezso watches the struggle play over his brother’s face - hope warring with resignation and suspicion. He takes Kasper’s hands, rubbing a bandaged thumb over his brother’s callused hands.
“He’s an out of towner, probably working for someone. He wants information on the town, but in exchange he’ll get us out.”
Trust me, is the unspoken words. Please, trust me. Kasper pauses for a second, long enough that Deszo worries, but he eventually speaks.
“So we’re unlocking the door?”
Kasper smiles at him, and it’s small and shaky but it’s Kasper’s smile, the same smile he’s worn for years.
Dezso is glad that at least that hasn’t changed yet.