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End of an Era Writing Contest 2019: VoidDancer's entry

Ferrous carefully picked his way across the rubble of what had once been the heart of a flourishing village. The sun was setting and dust motes dancing in the last rays of reddish sunlight were the only thing that moved around him. Crumbling buildings creaked ominously in the surrounding quiet, settling with the dropping temperatures.

He hated coming to this dead place. No one really knew how it had happened. A devastating sickness had hit villages seemingly at random, where ever it cropped up there were no survivors, whole villages erased in the span of days. In the beginning healers had tried to help and made their way to the afflicted areas but every single one of them had died right along the people they had tried to help. In the end, with so many brilliant minds gone, all that was left to do was to quarantine the villages and leave them to their fate. Thankfully the outbreaks had slowed and stopped after that but like grisly monuments to their failure the villages remained that still no one dared to enter, leaving them to be reclaimed by nature.

Ferrous sighed and adjusted the mask covering his whole face – hopefully – protecting him if any of the sickness still lingered. It was steeped in light magic, same as his gloves and other protective gear. It had not helped the healers during the outbreak but with so much time having passed he dared hope. He would know soon enough after all and this mission was more important than him.
Walking across the cracked pavement of the old market square, past a crumbling, long dry fountain and unconsciously adjusting and readjusting his mask yet again, he finally reached his goal. Like the ones surrounding it, the building had seen better days. Once sturdy timber and brick were crumbling, eaten away by the elements and plants slowly but inexorably spread their roots throughout the house´s very foundations.

With a worried look at the partially caved-in roof Ferrous carefully pushed open what remained of the door. It got stuck halfway but it was enough for him to squeeze through. The interior was even more disheartening. Evidence of the former inhabitants was everywhere and when he closed his eyes he could still see what this house had looked like, feel the warmth of the forge, hear the steady rhythm of hammer meeting anvil, the casual banter between … He opened his eyes again, his heart giving a painful lurch. The room was cold and quiet again, dust and debris and death. Reaching to wipe his eyes his hand collided with his mask, adjusted it again with nothing better to do.
Picking his way through the remains of the workshop he lifted some half-finished projects and fallen items but as much as it pained him to leave all of them behind, they were not what he had come here for. He did not have much time left, the light was fading fast and he had no desire to spend the night in this place to continue his search in the morning.

Ten minutes of careful searching later he finally spotted his prize. Stooping down and letting out a quiet sigh he cradled the object to his chest for a minute before putting it in a satchel, treated with even stronger spells than his other gear to hopefully cleanse it. He squeezed back through the door and with a last look back and a final adjustment of his mask he turned his back on the house and started on his long trek back into the world of the living.

Reaching the edge of the quarantine zone had been nerve wracking. Shedding his protective gear and burning it. Waiting agonisingly long days to see if he would show signs of the sickness. Carefully taking the item he had brought from its satchel, more waiting. After ten days the guards at the edge of the zone were finally satisfied that his gear had done its job, that it was safe to let him leave.

Another two days later found Ferrous at the end of this arduous journey. He knocked on the door of a house just after nightfall. Bright light spilled through a window and laughter could be heard from inside. The door was opened, by a young dragon whose green scales gained a golden tint from the light. Their eyes widened and with an excited “Uncle Ferrous!” she threw herself at the wanderer. Ferrous caught her with a laugh and hugged her tightly. More joyous greetings followed, more hugs and laughter as he was ushered inside.

Once everyone had calmed down and was seated in front of the fire once more Ferrous cleared his throat. He held a cloth wrapped bundle out to the young dragon who had opened the door. She looked up at him with confusion as she unwrapped it to find an old, worn hammer. “First of all, happy birthday Iria!” he said with a smile. “Your father told me that now you are old enough you have decided to follow the family tradition and become a blacksmith. That hammer, it has been in our family for generations. Every blacksmith in our family used it when they started their apprenticeship. When…when the sickness hit our home village…” he trailed off and cleared his throat and looked at his brother who had tears in his eyes. “I know you never met your grandparents. But they would have wanted you to have this, they would have been so proud. And you would have loved their workshop, it was a place where metal came to life! And while that era is forever gone, I hope with this you will carry their memory on into this new one.”

While everyone fought their tears with varying degrees of success Iria looked down at the hammer in her hands with newfound awe. After a minute she looked at Ferrous with determination in her eyes.
“I will.”