Beyond the basics of blacksmithing, the skill to do detailed repairs was rare. This ensured the prices remained high for many years after auto-drivers took to the roads.
— Padid Has-Glorian, Early Years of the Auto-Drivers
An hour later, Linsan and Brook walked hand-in-hand from the public house and across the road. She couldn't see the buggy but she heard a steady banging from a hammer striking metal.
No one else was moving about town. There was not even sign of the party from the previous night. Almost everyone had left before sunrise and returned to their homes for duties and jobs.
The starkness of the abandoned village was overwhelming.
Calibo looked up from where he was lashing some heavy planks into his wagon. He smiled broadly. “Good morning! Did you get a chance to sleep in comfortable beds?”
“What does that mean?” asked Brook, her tone sharpening.
Linsan looked at her worriedly.
He shrugged, then hopped down. Like his cousin, the ground shook from the impact. “You didn't come back to the wagon or head over to cousin's, so I hoped you found yourselves room.”
“Oh.” Brook's grip relaxed. “We did. It was a pleasant night.” Her tone softened and she squeezed Linsan's hand. Sharing a smile, she gestured to the entrance of the smithy. “Is she working on my Glasscoaster?”
“Head on it, it's safe if she isn't banging on things.”
Linsan spoke up. “What are the planks for?”
“I figured I'd build a bridge over that hole those assholes made. Or least make something to warn other wagons before they fall in. You folks with combat arts don't always think about the damage left behind your fights.”
With a blush, Linsan looked at it. “Sorry, I didn't mean to do that.”
He shrugged. “It wasn't your fault they decided to start killing and stealing. Their family has been doing that for generations. You weren't the one that put them in Greol's barn that night. You weren't the reason for who they are.”
With a groan, Calibo arched his back. “No, you were trying to do the right thing. And, if you happened to get them tied up, I suspect you wouldn't be thinking about cutting throats, right?”
Nausea rose up, choking Linsan. She had not considered what would happen if she managed to stun them, other than a vague idea of finding authorities. She held up and her hand and shook her head. “No, no! I wouldn't do that.”
“Well, then I won't blame you for a hole in the road,” Calibo said with a smile. “I'm a man of earth, I can patch her wounds with a smile.”
Brook tugged on Linsan's hands.
Linsan glanced over and then slipped her hand free. She turned to whisper to Brook. “I think I should help.”
Brook looked at the wagon and then to the blacksmith. She whispered back, “Please? I don't want to see how bad it is on my own.”
“I will. Then may I?”
Brook nodded and whispered thanks.
Linsan held up her hand. “Cal, mind if I help you? I can't lift much, but I helped make that hole. But I want to see the buggy first.”
Brook stepped toward the forge.
Calibo grunted and shook his head again. “It's going to take me hours to finish and I wasn't planning on coming back. I have work in Little Rock and my home is south of that. Once I finish, I need to get working and can't afford the time to come back here and still get a day's work. Don't worry,” he said flexing his arm, “I can handle a little bridge.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Why don't you see if Miska needs your help and then maybe work on fixing your bow? It sounds like you'll need that if you're going to keep going.”
The sick feeling from before rose up. In the rush of sex and emotions, she had forgotten that her bow had been cracked. “Sorry… thank you.”
“No, thank you. It takes a kind heart to offer. Go on, your friend is going to need some support. In the morning light, that car looks like terrible shape.”
Linsan followed after Brook who stood in the entrance of the forge area. When she came up, she could see tears in her friend's eyes but also a different look, one that she had just seen the night before.
Calibo and Miska had dragged the buggy into the center of the forge area. Twisted and torn metal stuck out in all directions. The front looked like it had been crushed as easily as a paper box.
Miska stood near the front, wearing a pair of functional and stained trousers, a heavy leather apron, and a greasy shirt. To Linsan's surprise, she didn't have a hammer in hand.
Wearing gloves, Miska picked up one end of a fender. Bracing it against her thigh, she raised her fist into the air and brought it down. The impact sounded like a hammer strike and the metal shook violently from the impact. A blast of warm air blew past Linsan bringing the smell of scorched metal and wood.
Brook leaned over. “Is she…?”
Miska slammed her hand down again, flattening the metal against her thigh. Sweat dripped down her brow as she adjusted it and hammered it again.
Linsan shook her head in amusement. “Fixing your buggy with her bare hands and against her thigh? Yes.”
Miska groaned and released the metal. Standing up, she ran her gloved hand across the side of her face. Sweat sluiced off the leather and splashed down to soak her shirt. She caught sight of Linsan and Brook before doing a double take. A scowl etched across her face. “I didn't hear you come in.”
“Y-You were pounding,” Brook said in her quiet voice. Her eyes scanned up and down, taking in the look of Miska with more than a little desire. It was a new expression for Linsan, but there was no question that something about Miska that excited Brook. After the morning's revelation, Linsan wondered if their night together had opened new possibilities for her.
Brook's eyes flickered to Linsan's and then a blush burned on her cheeks. She reached out and grabbed Linsan's hand and held it tight.
Linsan wasn't sure how she felt about Brook's attraction and dismissed it for later. She clasped Brook's hand and gave her a comforting smile. They would figure it out, together.
When they looked back, Miska was watching them carefully. “What do you want?” she asked in a sharp tone.
“How bad is my car?” Brook said, the familiar sharpness of her tone coming back.
Miska shook her head and rolled her eyes. She turned and pointed to the car as she spoke. “It looks the frame had been snapped her and here. The front is trashed, but the engine looks in pretty good shape. I'm thinking if I can most of this front repaired and pulled off, I'll have a better idea about midnight.”
“Midnight?” Linsan asked.
Brook's spine stiffened. “That's all day. We can't wait that long.”
Miska glared at her. “Well, then prepare to wait a lot longer because you trashed your Coaster and it's going to take me a lot of effort just to get your damn pretty ass back on the road, now isn't it?”
Brook opened her mouth but Linsan knew nothing helpful was going to come out. She squeezed Brook's hand tightly for a moment. When her friend looked over, Linsan shook her head. Brook closed her mouth with a snap.
“Let's let Miska do what repairs she can. We have other things we need to do.”
A flush colored Brook's cheeks and a smile quirked the corner of her lips.
Linsan grinned. “That or repair my bow and figure out how we're going to defeat Til, May, and Gab.”
Brook's smile dropped instantly.
As much as Linsan wanted to crawl back into bed and explore Brook's body, they had a duty before them. She took a deep breath. “Tonight? I promise. But Miska is right, we have to plan better. And that means learning new songs. We obviously can't reuse the same song from before, Til figured it on the second play. That means we need to learn and practice a lot more if we're going to have a chance.”
For a moment, Brook resisted. Then her shoulders slumped. “Very well. What do you need?”
“Horse hairs at least and probably some tools.”
Turning back, Brook cleared her throat and spoke politely to Miska. “Excuse me, do you know where we could find someone who keeps horses?”