Ash puffed on her cigar and sighed. Negotiating with the Lord of Scrap wouldn't be easy. In fact, very few came out of the scrap yard unscathed, and fewer still got what they came for. She briefly wondered if she should have enlisted Dally or Obsi for help, but she knew Lockjaw could have seen that as a threat. They will still considered royalty by too many for him to ignore, and being very much the Lord of his domain, he may refuse to listen to her. Ash couldn't risk that. The item she sought was too important.
The Shield of Power.
Years before, Gustav had heard tales of a suit of armor that would unite Atlas, and he sought to collect it. The legend said nothing of ruling, but unsurprisingly that had escaped Gustav's notice. He searched far and wide for the shield, and believed he'd found it. Fortunately, the shield was all he had managed to find. It had disappeared in the looting of his castle after his death. No one knew for sure where the shield had gone, but her gut told her Lockjaw had it.
But would he part with it?
Ash puffed again, put the ember of the half-smoked cigar out and the rest in the pocket of her cape. She slowly made her way down the ridge into the junk yard. Although she was careful not to make a lot of noise, the only sound she heard was her footsteps, which told her he knew she was there.
When she reached the bottom of the ridge, the enormity of the valley was overwhelming. Ash suddenly realized she had no idea wher Lockjaw's lair would be. The center? How far is that from where she was?
Ash wound her way through the mounds of broken machines, dragon armor, human armor and all manor of metallic objects, taking note that the refuse was organized into groups. The Scrap Metal King may collect junk, but he kept it neat. Ash shook her head. Dragons never cease to surprise in how human they can seem. Over an hour later, Ash reached a clearing; a perfect circle in the center of which sat a huge cave constructed from rusted war machines that had been melted just enough to hold them together in their shape. Before she could speak, an object flew out of the mouth of the cave and landed several feet in front of her.
"Is that what you have come for, Ash the Terrible?" a gravelly voice called from inside the cave.
Ash gritted her teeth, fighting the urge to draw her sword. The last person who had dared call her by Gustav's nickname for her had died an agonizing death. Lockjaw was testing her, and she would need to pass in order to have any hope of getting the shield.
Ash glanced down. "It is not," she replied in an emotionless voice.
The ground shook with the weight of stomping dragon footsteps. They stopped just short of the cave entrance.
"Are you sure?"
Ash sneered. "You would not give anyone what they came for without them asking for it, oh great Scrap Metal King, especially not what I have come for. I will not insult you by pretending not to know your ways."
Lockjaw inched forward, just enough for the light to cast a sinister shadow over his massive frame but to still remain unseen. His eyes glowed in the darkness.
"Tell me, what have you come for?"
Ash paused. "The Shield of Power, but I suspect a being as great as yourself already knows that." She stepped forward, picked up the shield and placed it on its side against the nearest pile of human armor she saw.
Lockjaw slowly emerged from his fabricated enclosure. He spread his wings and let out a terrible roar. The sunlight peeked out from behind the clouds and reflected off his armor and blinded Ash. She shielded her eyes with her hand but did not move.
"Are you finished, Your Majesty?" she asked flatly.
Lockjaw looked up at the sky and waited for the clouds to block the light again. Once they did, he folded his wings and looked down at her.
Ash knelt before him. "Oh great Lockjaw, I will not waste your precious time with gratuitous flattery. You know the item I seek. I ask you humbly now, do you have it?"
"I do," he replied as he lowered himself to the ground, "but why should I give it to you?"
Ash sat on the ground and crossed her legs in front of her. "There is a threat out there that is bigger than all of us. With the shield we can start to assemble the Suit of Unity to..."
"Atlas will never be united," Lockjaw laughed.
"True," Ash replied, "But Atlas will unite against something that threatens us all, even if only for a short time."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I have faith," Ash replied emphatically.
Lockjaw chuckled. "So human."
"This threat affects us all: human, dwarf, elf, troll...dragon..."
Ash put her palms on her knees and leaned forward. "If the Elders are right about The Void, and whatever controls it gets through, even if the dragons are untouched, there will be no one to manufacture the machines you treasure."
Lockjaw sneered, which was a very unnerving sight. "If, and I stress if, I give this to you, what will I get in return?"
"What do you want?" Ash asked carefully.
Lockjaw looked over his shoulder. "I want someone competent to redo the outside of my cave. It needs to be reconfigured and reinforced. I am, as unlikely as it seems, unable to do this myself."
Ash nodded. "I am sure I can find the perfect person or persons to help you."
Lockjaw rose. "The shield is missing its adornments."
Ash nodded. "I know."
Lockjaw turned and went back into his cave. A moment later another shield landed on the ground at her feet. She bent down, ran her fingers over the surface and smiled.
"I'll have someone here within the month," she called as she picked up the shield. She climbed to the top of the nearest pile of armor, whistled, and Fenrir swooped down low enough for her to jump on his back. She patted his neck and leaned forward. "Time to go visit the Glaze."