was growing worse, spreading to other parts of his
body. The Smith did not care in the least for the
sensation of being without strength. It was becoming
really alarming. Not only a stone wall, a wooden door,
but even flesh was able to resist him now.
While all the time, in his right hand which felt
stronger than ever, the limitless power of
Shieldbreaker tapped out its readiness to be used.
“. . . we can fix that like this. . .”
And Vulcan, reaching behind himself somewhat
awkwardly with the Sword, moved it to cut loose the
clinging human flesh. Awkward, yes. His hands that
had worked with divine skill to forge this weapon and
its peers felt clumsy now when he tried to use it
behind his back.
“Aaahrr!” All he had accomplished was to wound
himself slightly in the neck.
He aimed his next blind cut more cautiously
That time, Vulcan assured himself, the Sword had,
it must have, passed right through the body of the
clinging man. The trouble was that the man still clung
on as tight as ever, giving no indication of being killed.
The muscles of those human arms even tightened a
little more. Their force should have been
inconsequential in terms of what was needed to choke
a god, but Vulcan imagined that his own breathing had
become a shade more difficult, enough to be annoying,
Why was he, a god, worrying about breathing? But
suddenly it seemed to matter.
The human’s mortal breath, gasping with exertion
but still full of life, sawed in Vulcan’s ear. “I was
there with you when you forged this weapon, God of
Fire. My blood is in it, and part of my life. I know it-”
Standing in the middle of a large room, beside a
fireless forge, Vulcan braced himself and strained
with his left hand again. But still he could not break
the other’s grip.
“-know it as well as you do, Firegod. Better, maybe.
I can feel the truth of Shieldbreaker, now that it has
touched me again. You cannot hurt me with it, as long
as I have no weapon of my own.”
By now Vulcan’s search for other Swords had
been forgotten. This foolish business of letting a
human being attack him had gone too far, he had to
end it. He had to rid himself of this clinging thing, and
do it swiftly.
But even as he strove to do so, another human,
approaching unnoticed by the god in his distraction,
leaped upon him. This one was a tiny female with
dark hair. Vulcan moved just as she jumped at him, so
that she almost missed. But still she had him by one
ankle now, and she was trying-who would have
believed such a thing?-to tip him over.
Vulcan used the Sword on her. Or tried to use it
rather. He saw with his own eyes how the blade of
Shieldbreaker passed through her body, or gave the
illusion of dong so, again and again, without leaving the
.least trace of damage after it.
With his Sword perversely useless now, against this
fragile flesh that grappled with him, the Smith let out a
great roar, of mental pain and choking rage. He would
have thrown the Sword away now, but it refused to
separate from his hand. His fingers would not release
their grip upon the hilt.
All right then, he’d use it, in the only way it would
still work. He laid about him with the Sword, knocking
down furniture and walls, sending bricks and timber
and plaster flying. Dragging his two human tormentors
helplessly with him, he chewed a passage through the
ground floor of their house. He’d bring it all down on
their heads, these useless human vermin.
A new idea came to him, and he tried to increase
his stature, to swell himself once more to true godsize.
Appallingly, he found that he could not. All the powers
that had once been his were shrinking, concentrating,
being driven minute by minute into
the one focus of his perfect Sword, the blade of
Shieldbreaker itself and his right arm and hand that
Now, other humans, emboldened by the survival of
the first two, were coming to join in the attack.
Human hands fastened on Vulcan’s left arm, more
human hands on his other leg. Someone’s hand
snatched Farslayer from its sheath at his belt; not that
he’d really dreamed of wasting it on any of these puny
. . .
More people were coming at him, a grappling
swarm of them. Now they were strong and numerous
enough to drag him against his will. They were forcing
him a step at a time out of the house, going through
some of the very openings he’d just created. He
lashed out wildly with the Sword, and more wood and
dust and tile came crashing down, on Vulcan’s head
and all around him, not bothering him much but laying
one or two of his assailants low. Through the
chokehold on his neck he gurgled minor triumph.
Still more and more of the vermin came pouring out
of their holes, now daring to attack him. Jord cried a
warning to one of these, but too late. The man had
leaped at Vulcan, swinging an axe at the Smith’s head.
Shieldbreaker tapped once and brushed the weapon
away, along with the arms of the man who had been
Another man tried to grab Vulcan by the
Swordarm. Still too much power there, too much by
far, perhaps more power than ever. The man was
flung off like mud from a wheel, to break his body on
But still the other people held on. Half a dozen of
them were gripping the god now, each of the ver-
min seeming to gain determination from the
others, each of them sapping some minute portion of
Vulcan roared out threats, though he knew that it
was now too late for threatening. Words and yells did
him no good. He fell, and. rolled upon the floor,
brushing off some of his assailants, crushing others,
damaging them all, savaging those who persisted in
clinging on. Yet persist they did, and still more came,
out of the wreckage of their house. As soon as he rid
himself of one, one or two more jumped on him,
coming at him endlessly out of the rooms and ruins.
A crossbow bolt came streaking at him, launched
by some concealed and unwise hand. Shieldbreaker
tapped once again, unhurriedly, and shattered the
missile in midair. Fragments of the bolt drew blood
from the people who were wrestling with the god.
Jord, in a weakening voice, cried warning once
again: “No weapons! No weapons, and we can win!”
Concentrated now in the one Sword was all of
Vulcan’s power, and all his hope. He knew that he
must win with it, or die. Once more, then, behind his
back, carefully and hard-there, that must have cut the
pestiferous human leader clean in two!
But it had not. Or if it had, the man had been able
to survive such treatment handily. The human’s legs
and feet still behaved as if they were connected to his
brain, and he rode the god as if Vulcan were no more
than a riding beast.
And Vulcan could feel a new pain in his back, and
more of his own blood; once more he’d done himself
some damage with the Sword.
Still he fought on, straining to stab, slice up,
destroy, the desperately wrestling human horde. They
clung to him and submitted to being battered when he
rolled on the ground again. When he was back on his
feet, they dragged him about, and would not be
shaken off. He slipped and fell, in a patch of his own
And now they picked him up.
Now in their score of hands they bore him, raving,
thrashing, screaming, outside the building, and he
could no longer try to bring it down upon them. The
arc of the Sword of Force flashed at them, passed
through their bodies as through phantoms, leaving
The original grip on Vulcan’s neck was really
choking now. Every muscle of his body was growing
weaker and weaker-except those in his right arm.
That limb felt more and more powerful, but all that it
could do was wield the Sword, and in combat against
unarmed flesh the Sword was useless. Meanwhile,
Vulcan’s blood drained from his self-inflicted wounds.
He relaxed suddenly, playing dead.
In a moment, stunned and battered themselves, the
people had all let go of him.
He leaped up, raging, wise enough now to use his
first free effort to throw the Sword away from him.
But in the presence of his enemies it would not let him
A moment later, a huge man, who had just come
stumbling out of the half-ruined house, had hurled
himself alone at Vulcan, and brought the god down