After I finish with my business for the day, I return to my hotel room. The strange writing all around me reminds me that I am now far from my family. Despite my father’s disapproval, he has to accept I am not there with him and am not influencing events. With that now established, I can do what I came here to do.
I close the door and lock it. I then close my eyes and concentrate.
I can sense the world and my place within it. I imagine it is different for all of us. For me, I sense a web of iron both wrapped around the Earth and penetrating deep within it. Some of the iron is moving. Some are circulating around the bodies of the mortals. Billions of them carrying it around with them, making the web pulse and shift. It is alive. I centre myself in the moving, living net, understanding my position. Then I shift. I lift myself and move to another place in the structure. The world melts and warps. I move, instantly appearing in another place.
I open my eyes. Darkness.
I know exactly where I am. There is enough iron surrounding me to recognise where I am and to navigate in the dark. In fact, there is little else but iron. There is only rock and some other metals and minerals. There is no plastic and no glass. What are those? Modern inventions. I never had any use for them here.
I walk through the darkness until I reach a pool of solidified rock. I place my hand on it and call to something, forcing heat from somewhere deep under where I am standing. As the rock begins to glow red, dimly illuminating the room, I see tools on the walls and dark figures in alcoves. It is all still here. Soon the rock glows orange and begins to melt.
I left this place long ago when I abandoned the old ways. I had workshops and equipment, so I did not need the heat of the volcano anymore. I could direct others to do my bidding, so I did not need to labour day and night. As the world decided it no longer needed swords and daggers, I accepted it and moved on. I became civilised and professional. I became a leader of men, a director, a manager. I became the kind of god who was content to sit in meetings while others spoke of their own dreams and achievements. I soon forgot this place. I forgot the heat of my forge. I thought I was better for it.
The rock radiates heat, and I feel it on my skin, awakening me. It is not like the artificial heat of the mortal furnaces. It is something raw and ancient. The rock in front of me has become a pool of yellow liquid. The mountain is awakening, the volcano welcoming me home.
A figure lumbers into place behind me. It is larger than I, and its metal skin is tarnished from a thousand years of neglect and abandonment. Still, it functions.
I stand up, observing the forge that is now flooded with bright yellow light. Beside it, the trough is still filled with water. It drips slowly from the roof, from a store of rainwater hidden above us.
I turn to the metal figure and touch its chest. Its skin is dark and dull, but the brutality and ugliness of its appearance is unimportant, as I can testify. As long as it functions here in the dark, it does not matter. I address it. “We must wake the others. There is work to be done.”
Its sightless eyes give no indication that it understands. It does not, of course. Talking to my automatons is no more than a habit I once formed. They comprehend very little. They do not think. They are not even robots. They are little more than tools. I constructed them when I found I needed help in the forge, and mortals could not withstand the heat inside the volcano.
I send it to operate the bellows as more shambling figures begin to move out of the shadows, their joints creaking in protest.
My companions. My collaborators. After all this time, waiting in the darkness, they are still here to help me. They still function, though their movements may be slow and laboured. They seem almost to be in pain as they slowly move into position. They are more like me than my family. I will help them. I will oil their joints, and I will apply heat where metal has temporarily fused. They will function without pain once more. My own leg troubles me, just as it did so long ago. I find myself dragging it across the floor as I prepare myself. I remove the clothes of the businessman I have been wearing for so long and don the apron that used to be my uniform.
Everything is coming back to life, just as it was before.
This is my foundry. This is my forge. Not some sterile modern facility hidden beneath my father’s latest conceit. Here is where I can do real work. I do not need their blast furnaces and their electronic controls. I will make my iron here. All I need is my furnace, my charcoal, and my hammer. I will work the iron myself, just as I used to. I will strengthen it with my hammer. I will use charcoal to make it melt more easily and turn it into steel. I will make material using the old ways. I will make metal fit for a god.
Recently I have been aware of a discomfort within me, a fearfulness with no cause. We would once have called it pathos. I think the mortals call it anxiety, which seems such an inadequate word for my disquietude. I feel there is something waiting for me. Something that lies beyond the shadows. I must be prepared. I must be armed.
I cannot say why I feel this way, only that I have an increasing dread. I feel I am in danger, that I am alone. It is more than that. It is not just that I feel alone, for I have always been alone. It is a different word. Vulnerable. I feel vulnerable. I have always been rejected, but now I feel something else is going to happen. I must defend myself.
I must produce weapons fit to deal with this unseen threat. Not the toys that the mortals produce, not weapons that fire lumps of metal into the darkness. I will construct weapons that are fit to be wielded by an immortal, weapons capable of ending the life of such beings, any beings. As ever, I cannot rely on my family, and I will not be left defenceless in the face of what may come.
My automatons operate the bellows, blasting air through the furnace, raising the temperature, and forcing out the impurities. They draw out what remains, and I hammer it over and over. There is much work to be done. Iron, copper, lead, tin, arsenic, charcoal, I need all of it and more. I will work through the night. My father will never know. One night will not be enough to fully awaken the volcano and cause an eruption. Tomorrow I will return to my other life with what I have produced, and nobody will ever know I was here.
For now, I work. I sweat amidst the heat and the noxious air. The incandescent, imperfect metal and I meet each other, both stubborn and tainted. We will both be hardened, but only the metal will be purified. I toil relentlessly, hammering the unforgiving metal endlessly.
This is who I am. This is who I always was.
As the forge glows and the air becomes more acrid, I wipe the sweat from my brow and pick up the tongs again, holding the glowing iron in place in front of me as I bring my hammer down upon it. I feel it. I feel the iron shifting, strengthening. I address the automaton behind me as I pound the metal. “Tell me. Tell me what my name is!”
It echoes my question, mindless, “Your name?”
Sparks fly from the iron as I strike it again and again. I shout over the hammer strokes, my eyes never leaving my target. “My name! Tell me my name! Say it!”
A neutral, dead voice from behind me intones, “Hephaestus. Your name is Hephaestus.”
I hammer the iron harder, feeling the vibration from each hammer stroke shake my body as it passes through it. “And who am I!? Tell me who I am!”
The same empty voice. “You are Hephaestus. Master of the Forge.”
I strike faster, raising the hammer over my head, slamming it down with all my strength. “I am not just the master! What am I! Tell me what I am!”
It humours me with the truth. “You are Hephaestus. God of Forge and Fire.”
I continue. There is only the metal. It is all I can see. Soon I will quench it, plunging it into water, seeing the steam erupt from it. “Yes! I am Hephaestus! God of Forge and Fire!”
I remember. I who have discarded so many memories, remember who I am at least. Though perhaps I had also forgotten that for a time.
They have all forgotten. They have all forgotten who I am. Who I was.
Soon they will all be reminded.
I am Hephaestus. God of Forge and Fire.