The volcano isn’t on any maps. It doesn’t exist in this world; you can only find it on another plane of existence, one where mortal man can never go. But Merlin is no mortal man, so it’s as easy for him to enter this realm as walking to the local pub.
He steps through the opening from one world to another and enters a field of daisies. He remembers the last time he saw a field of daisies, on his long trip from Egypt to Britain. Such a sight was unlike anything in Egypt with all that sand and heat that made it impossible for wildflowers to grow.
A horse nibbles on some grass in the field. It’s not a normal horse, though; it’s got feathered wings like those of a giant bird. In modern parlance it’s a Pegasus. The winged horse looks up from its feeding to glare at Merlin. It whinnies a challenge.
“I’ve come to see your master,” Merlin says.
The horse continues to glare. It allows Merlin to get close enough to put a hand on its neck. “I promise you have nothing to fear from me.”
The horse snorts. Still, it allows Merlin to swing onto it. The moment Merlin steadies himself, the Pegasus extends its wings. It flaps the wings as it runs across the field. After a few moments, it achieves enough lift to take flight.
Though he’s been from one end of the earth to the other and beyond, he still can’t help but grab the horse’s mane as it gets airborne. He grabs it even tighter as the Pegasus sails past the land and over the ocean. Merlin is dignified enough not to get airsick, though he does feel a bit queasy.
After what feels like hours, the volcano appears. There’s nothing around it, just a twenty-story volcano that seems to rise straight out of the water. Merlin takes a deep breath as the Pegasus dives into the opening of the volcano. Not even Merlin can help but scream as the horse plunges into a lake of molten rock.
The lava is just an illusion. The horse comes through the other side of it without a hair singed, as does Merlin. He lets out a sigh as the horse begins a gentler descent into a temple of white marble.
Waiting for him is a man at least ten feet tall with biceps bigger around than Merlin’s waist. His thick sandy beard has dried and scorched patches indicative of someone who spends a lot of time near an open flame. Indeed he does spend a lot of time near an open flame, as he is the world’s greatest blacksmith.
“I should have known it would be you,” the giant growls.
“Forgive my intrusion, Heph. I’ve come on a matter of great importance.”
“It had better be. Odin keeps badgering me to finish this hammer for his no-account son. The last thing a spoiled princeling needs is a magic weapon, if you ask me, but it’s not my place to interfere. Come, we can discuss what you need along the way.”
Heph’s house is sized to fit him, which made any mortal man feel like a mouse scurrying about. Most of the house is deserted, a layer of dust covering the furniture. “I heard what happened with Aphrodite—”
“Do not speak her name!” Heph roars. “Traitorous wench. She dares to leave me for that preening fool Ares? God of war. Hah! He wouldn’t know what to do with a sword if it bit him in the arse.”
“Very true. I’m afraid I have a bit of woman trouble myself.”
“Ah, yes, the false goddess. Isis. I knew that would go badly. Why Anubis ever thought to give her such power is beyond me. And that demon of hers with those claws. If she wanted real weapons, she should have come to me. But I suppose that’s what brings you here. You want me to design something to kill her?”
“I’m afraid such a thing is beyond even your skill, not with the protection of a god of the underworld.”
“You could let me at least try. I would enjoy the challenge.”
“For now I only need something to slay her servant, the demon.”
Heph snorts at that. “And I thought you had a real challenge for me.”
“There are a few other items I will require. Do you have boots around here? Perhaps a spare tunic and loincloth?”
“I’m sure I can find something. What else do you need?”
“I’ll need a helmet.”
“Well, that’s still not much of a challenge, but it’ll have to do.” Heph bends down to tap Merlin on the shoulder with one huge finger. “Come, let us see what we can find.”
TO BE CONTINUED...
Tomorrow the warrior is chosen...