Time passed by in the raising of toasts, and soon afterward, the feast was over.
Bidding their farewells to Moreila and Joshua, the other dwarves took their leave, stroking their beards with satisfaction. After all, in this world, the most important thing to have between people was common ground. It was the same even for dwarves, and through this party, they had gotten to know Joshua better, as the count of Moldavia—so it had been worth making the time to attend.
Of course, no small number of dwarves, as they were leaving, looked upon the warrior with new respect in their eyes, for a simple-enough reason: for a human to be able to hold his drink so well, he was truly one in a million.
Once all the guests had left, Joshua—his face starting to glow faintly red—got to his feet.
Even with his physical strength and fortitude, consuming such a volume of dwarven liquor might have been a bit much for him. Now the warrior felt a little light-headed and dizzy, so he immediately invoked the Combat Aura from within himself, suppressing the side effects of the alcohol with some regret.
In the first place, Joshua drank for the sake of putting himself into a rare and pleasant stupor. That wouldn't do at the moment, however—right now, he should be taking care of business.
Turning, he looked over to the far side of the table, where the old dwarf and the elven druid were watching each other quietly. Joshua could tell that the tension between Clyre and Moreila from earlier had subsided—although the air between them still felt cold and stiff, it was a vast improvement over how it had been earlier.
"Looks like giving them some space to talk things out had its effect." Joshua shook his head with some disappointment. "Those two seem to have known each other a long time. To think that although Clyre looks so young, she's already centuries old. That's the problem with elves—they may all be beautiful, but the difference between outward appearances and their actual age…"
This was what he thought about as he made his way over to the two of them.
"Joshua, I must apologize about the party—on account of having met an old friend, I spent far too much time here reminiscing." Noticing the warrior's approach, the dwarf stood to receive him, his manner cheerful and merry. "Your armor is just about ready, and you've arrived at exactly the right time to complete the final step of the process. If it's alright with you, how about we make our way over to the core furnace now, and finish this one last procedure?"
"No problem. Shall we be off, then?" Naturally, Joshua wouldn't refuse, even though the true purpose of his coming here was to get someone to inspect that odd piece of steel-essence crystal—picking up the armor was also on the to-do list, after all. Joshua turned to address his waiting subordinates. "Everyone, do as you please. Ling, come with me."
Generally speaking, the knights were expected to be his bodyguards, always by Joshua's side—however, if there really arose a situation which even the warrior couldn't handle, the knights would probably be helpless to do anything anyway. As such, Joshua had brought them along this time not only because it might be seen as a bit of a let-down for a count to be traveling without a retinue, but also because he planned to purchase a large number of supplies from the dwarves—at which point the knights would be on cargo duty.
When everyone was ready, the old dwarf set out directly from the town hall, Joshua and Ling following him into the street outside, with Clye silently keeping pace behind the warrior.
Joshua didn't mind this. And so, the odd little group wound their way through the city streets, until they arrived at the core furnace itself.
What they called the core furnace was mainly where the dwarves forged weapons, built machinery, and tried out their latest designs. In human terms, it was a center for research and development, as well as a weapons-testing area—it even supplied raw materials. It was the most important public facility in any large dwarven settlement—more so than even the brewery.
The core furnace was extraordinarily huge, shaped like a massive stepped pyramid formed wholly out of metal. Joshua had himself a better look up close and saw that the base of this enormous steel construction went deep underground, delving all the way down to the lava well to extract fire-elemental mana. Its tip meanwhile must surely pass through the countless tunnels they had traveled through on their way down, for the sake of heat dispersion and ventilation.
A construction like this would have been a rare enough achievement on the surface; to have been able to build such a wonder underground, it could only be the work of the dwarves, children of earth and mountain.
As the current leader of the northern rune dwarves, as well as the highest-ranking High Lord Blacksmith, Moreila commanded tremendous prestige. Despite being accompanied by two humans and an elf, not only did the guards patrolling outside the core furnace not stop him—after raising a salute to him upon spotting him from a distance, they went the other way to patrol somewhere else.
The entrance into the core furnace was a set of metal gates. Just before he stepped through, Joshua spotted something out of the corner of his eye—a stone plaque at the side, with a message written upon it in Common language:
'Black Steel Forge—Danger: Please do not approach if you have no business here!'
"Once we go in, it might get a little uncomfortable." As the dwarf delivered this cautionary warning, his expression made it clear that he wasn't kidding around. "Our smithy here is not the same as those of other dwarves—it's more dangerous."
Moreila wasn't the sort to speak falsely. Just as they stepped into the interior of the core furnace, a blast of hot air rushed out into their faces, the extreme temperatures produced by the concentration of fire-elemental energy causing the air to be dry and sweltering. A normal person would find it an incredible challenge even to breathe, their throat and lungs at risk of being damaged—however, it just so happened that of the four people making their way inside, three were Gold-tier champions, and the last was a Divine Armament in human form—for such remarkable individuals, an environmental hazard like this didn't so much as give them pause.
In the interior of the core furnace, there shone a bright magical light. As the group ventured deeper, they could see that all along the inner walls, magical vapors of every color flowed through translucent crystal channels. This immense runic machine continued to operate at all hours, thundering deafeningly.
Joshua observed the surrounding mechanisms: red-and-gold molten iron ran down a semi-transparent tube beside him, and then poured into various molds nearby. Once filled, the molds were then transported away on conveyor belts. Seeing this sight—which felt at once familiar, yet foreign—he admitted to being a little startled.
I never thought the dwarves had already begun a magical industry. Originally, I'd only imagined this place to be the same as in other dwarven settlements—just a big blacksmithy. I'd never even imagined that the northern lands, in the Year 832 of Starfall, already had a prototype rune factory.
Examining the orderly arrangement of blast furnaces and runic machinery around him, Joshua was clearly awed. He realized that although it seemed rudimentary and simple, they were the fore-runners of the vast automated manufactories of the future. Looking upon these prototype runic mechanisms, which he doubted he could find anywhere else in this world, the warrior found himself feeling somewhat crestfallen. An industrial production line has already taken first shape, but I don't know whether the first magical forge has been invented yet—I think I remember the events of this time period, but not very clearly, unfortunately.
Regarding the technology on the Mycroft Continent—to be precise, the level of magic was good enough—now that it was the Starfall Year 832, besides how he had now seen the dwarves produce a functioning rune factory, the human Union far to the south also possessed various magic-based machinery: a specialized large-scale alchemical device that could automatically enchant a variety of weapons and other items—although it was only with the most basic enchantments, it was nevertheless a revolutionary step forward.
Meanwhile, at the Sacred Mountain of the High Seas, preparations should already be underway for the process—which would take seven years to complete—to create the phenomenally immense strategic-level divine weapon 'Ever-Burning Holy Light': a weapon of such power, during the first invasion by the forces of the Dark Abyss afterwards, three divisions of the demon army were wiped out with a single shot, buying precious time for the other powers on the continent to retaliate.
And upon the human-controlled plains to the east—as the largest gathering of mages on the Mycroft continent, they commanded tremendous magic – enough to build massive cities in the sky, even entire airborne islands. Many Supreme-tier grand mages no longer built magic towers as in the past, but instead went to great lengths to accumulate the resources to create their own floating fortresses. They had even begun to reach for the stars—the third edition of the great map 'The Void Beyond the Stars' was initially discovered upon the floating fortress of some powerful mage.
Seeing the wonderment on Joshua's face, Moreila beamed with pride, laughing as he said, "How is it? This new production method I've meticulously designed—it's miles ahead of the old ways of hammer-forging, isn't it? Of course, the armor I'll be presenting to you, I forged it all by hand. This kind of mold-casting is fast, sure—but the quality leaves something to be desired, so it's only good enough for standard-issue military equipment."
"It's amazing—you could even say this is the start of a new era, Master Moreila. For this alone, your name will surely be recorded in the annals of history." It wasn't mere flattery; Joshua sincerely meant what he said. "However, I feel as though you haven't yet discovered the true potential of this invention; rune factories aren't meant to forge weapons."
In his mind, the warrior remembered the Alliance armies of the future—and the invincible Steel Legion.
"Not to forge weapons?" The old dwarf appeared bewildered. His brow creased in curiosity, he asked, "What should it be used for, then?"
"Magic, of course."
Talking as they went, the group arrived at a hall in the deepest part of the core furnace.
They had arrived at Ironborn Moreila's personal smithy.