The trip to Mount Deucero was strange. Not because of anything they encountered, nor because of anything they saw but because of a feeling. There was an uncomfortable feeling in the air. As though the trio was setting out for a daunting challenge.
The three barely spoke, none of them certain about why they were so nervous. They continued their trek without incident until they spotted it, a small but elaborately decorated house with a massive smithery set up outside of it. An elderly looking man was hobbling to the anvil with the aid of a stick.
They dismounted and approached him. “Pardon us,” Sylvie cried out. “We’re…”
“I know who you are,” the old man snapped. “Sylvie, Serena, Inés. Warrior priestesses of Athena come to ask my services.”
“How do you know that?” Inés asked.
“Apollo’s gift,” the old man answered. “Very handy little thing.” He looked at the tonfa hanging from Inés’ waist. “Those things are no good for you. It’s a staff you’re wanting, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Inés stated. “Do you have one?”
“I can make one,” he said. “A very strong one. However, the three of you have to do me a favour if you want weapons.”
“Then we have two questions,” Sylvie said. “What is the favour and why is a soothsayer working as a weaponsmith?”
“I’m curious about that as well,” Serena said. “Isn’t it unusual for someone with Apollo’s gift to not use it?”
The old smith chuckled. “I never said that I had Apollo’s gift. No, no. I was told about you by my half-brother. As to the favour.” He pointed towards the peak of the mountain. “Up there lies a grand pasture. A pasture where pegasi graze. The pasture is sacred to Aeolus, protected by a great gate and guarded by Aurai with wyverns. The three of you will get past that gate, retrieve three pegasi for me and return for your weapons.”
“You want us to fight our way past a bunch of angry Aurai and capture multiple pegasi?” Sylvie demanded, incredulous.
“I think that I can take them,” Inés stated.
“Fighting the Aurai would be folly,” he said. “but, there are other ways. Most mortals would be killed instantly upon approaching their domain but you three… you three have some protection not afforded to most. I think, as does my half-brother, that the Aurai will be inclined to parley with you.”
“We’re wasting our time here,” Sylvie said. “Come on, let’s return to Wicadia and find a weapon smith there.”
“Do you really doubt yourself so much, Sylvie Fortunio?” he asked. He shook his head, mockingly. “However will you reach Drahaven or properly confess your feelings to young Miss Fensen if you don’t even have the gumption to meet with some Aurai?”
Sylvie turned towards him, very quickly. “There’s a difference between gumption and reckless idiocy!” she declared. “You say that they’ll listen to us and everything will be all right. I say, it’s foolhardy to trespass in a sacred meadow and risk the wrath of a God just to get Inés a new staff. Why should the Aurai even listen to us and why should we take that chance when we can get a staff elsewhere?”
“Because you can’t get a better staff anywhere else,” he said. “I can guarantee that much. Furthermore, you’re curious. Now that I’ve brought up Miss Fensen you don’t know how much I know about the three of you.”
“Is Illyana Miss Fensen?” Serena asked.
Inés nodded. “She never took her adoptive mum’s name. Bugger if I know why.”
“I do,” the old man said. “Would you like to hear the story?”
“No thank you!” Sylvie snapped. “You’ve already made it very clear that you know all about us.”
“Why are you going to all this trouble, Old Timer?” Inés asked. “Surely, you can’t be that hurting for customers.”
“Course not,” he said. “But I know of no other customers who can bring me pegasi. As I said, other mortals would be torn to shreds.”
“Ladies,” Sylvie gestured to them. The three moved closely together. “Do we go on this crazy errand?” She whispered the words as soon as they were near.
“It’s going to rain while you’re huddled like that, just before you come to your decision,” he called out. The three of them looked up, there was no sign of clouds. It was a bright, sunny day.
“It seems really sketchy,” Serena whispered, slightly louder than she’d intended.
“I think we should,” Inés said.
“Explain,” Sylvie demanded.
“Because I don’t think he’s lying,” Inés said. I doubt that anyone would go to so much trouble to trap us. The only ones with a reason to are those monotheists and the ones in charge of them are dead. Besides, he knows things that they wouldn’t.”
“Granted,” Sylvie said. “But it seems crazy. I…” she didn’t finish her sentence. A sudden downpour hit them, leaving them soaked. They heard the old man laughing. Then, as suddenly as it happened, it was gone.
“He said it would happen,” Serena reminded them. “Maybe… maybe Inés is right. Maybe he is being honest with us.”
“All right,” Sylvie muttered. “If you both want to trust your fates to this codger, I guess I have no choice but to go along with you.”
“Then we’re all agreed,” Inés said. She turned to him. “We’ll get your pegasi, Old Timer.”
“I knew you would,” he said. “I’ll take care of your horses.”
“Our horses?” Serena asked.
“Can’t ride them where you’re going,” he said. “And they’ll be safer here than where you’d have to leave them. Snatched up by wyverns if they go with you.”
“And you’ll make her a staff when we bring the pegasi to you?” Sylvie asked.
“I’ll make your weapons while you’re gone,” he said. “They’ll be on the table by the time you return.”
Inés walked up to him and shook his hand. “It’s a deal.”