Once lost, now merely disputed, the true location of Hephaestus’ Quench has been kept secret through subterfuge and misinformation by those who wish to control its power.
In blacksmithing and metalworking, the process of quenching a piece - usually in a liquid medium of water or oil - expedites and controls the way in which it cools and sets. The techniques employed to imbue materials with various physical or aesthetic qualities embodied a practical science, advancing leaps and bounds ahead of the theoretical underpinnings that would come to explain it. Perhaps the same will one day be true of the work done by Hephaestus’ Quench, a hidden pool of transformative and transmutational quenchant in which the weapons of Olympus were cooled and, thusly, infused with their divine and miraculous powers and properties.
Named for the armourer of the ancient Greek pantheon (and the cuckold husband of Aphrodite), Hephaestus’ Quench was long-believed to be nothing more than an obscure facet of myth. As a consequence, there was little in the way of scholarly research about the nature of the Quench, and no effort was being made to uncover its location. Indeed, the first conclusive proof of its existence was its discovery; an accident - or perhaps an act of providence - that was immediately cleaned and covered up by people who were still uncertain about the nature and the potential enormity of what had been found.
To this day, much of what is more broadly known has been pieced together from a combination of the rumours and leaks that are an inevitable failing of secrecy and conspiracy. While even these best efforts are prone to the manipulation of those with a vested interest in maintaining their control - discerning the deliberate fictions that are shared in order to delegitimise and deny facts is a painstaking labour - there are consistencies from which we can extrapolate certain truths: Foremost of which is that Hephaestus’ Quench is likely located somewhere within subterranean caverns buried in the volatile, volcanic depths of Mount Etna.
Not easily accessible, even to those who know exactly where to look for the entrance to the caverns that lead to it, following the route to Hephaestus’ Quench involves descending a sheer wall of rock before navigating a labyrinthine network of narrow tunnels and cramped passageways. The heat is said to be immense, sweltering subject to the temperamental ebb and flow of magma rivers that threaten to break through at any moment, fundamentally changing the layout of the caverns and rendering the Quench inaccessible (if not burying it once and for all). Exhaustion, dehydration and heatstroke are all constant threats, even if nothing more calamitous goes wrong.
Only one of numerous dead-ends within the caves, the space in which the Quench itself is set - while impressive in scale - is neither immediately nor dramatically auspicious. Lacking the flair of ceremony or ornamentation, the most marked sign of design and intention is that the floor has been cut flat: The first sure footing since the entrance to the caves. Atypical, if not necessarily impossible, it becomes clearer that the construction is artificial where it ends in a sharp ledge; a squared-off corner that plunges abruptly into glittering sapphire waters that taper down into the darkness of vast and uncertain depths.
Conspicuously cool, the Quench drains the heat out of the room, chilling the air into a fierce bite at odds with the preceding chambers and channels. Perfectly still, the surface could be mistaken for polished glass, but there is an unearthly, uncanny aspect to the images it reflects back. It is a disconnect that invites impulsive exploration, an unwary hand reaching out to its wan opposite will find the surface just out of reach; tantalising and encouraging a more reckless approach. Intention and inevitability entangle and - at the slightest touch - the Quench delivers a stunning shock which unbalances the offending person and pulls them into its waters.
Numbing and electric, the sensation passes as soon as the fall becomes inevitable and - after a moment of blank inertia - is replaced by a freezing sensation that has very little to do with the water's temperature. Not merely a measure to influence the crystalline structure of cooling metals, Hephaestus' Quench has a number of more profound effects. Inorganic materials respond somewhat uniformly - becoming vastly more resistant to damage (even whilst retaining their prior flexibility and other material properties) - whereas living creatures seem to undergo one or more of any number of seemingly unpredictable variant mutations as a result of their exposure.
Whilst not necessarily dramatic, especially in terms of overt physiological changes, the common aspect of these mutations (inasmuch as one can be identified) appears to be in the scope of their functions. Increased strength, limited precognition and the ability to generate and project electrical currents - to name only three examples - are potentially tools, but they are all gifts which can just as easily be turned to the purposes of war and conquest. Perhaps this, in keeping with legend, was an intended aspect of the Quench’s function? Or perhaps the way these powers are expressed and understood is a reflection of humanity’s worst tendencies?
Fortunately, abilities that could have shifted the balance of power in ages past are more easily met and matched by the advancements of modernity. When taken alongside the relative difficult of accessing Hephaestus’ Quench, its effects seem unlikely to extend beyond the immediate lives and influences of those able to make the pilgrimage personally. Efforts have, of course, been made to recreate the Quench’s transformative properties, but its strange alchemy is apparently reliant on more than the waters themselves. Removed from their source, they only maintain a measure of their prior potency and granting intermittent abilities that fade and falter completely over the course of a few days.
Apparently, the efficacy of Hephaestus’ Quench - though diminished over time - is dependent on the interaction between the both the location and the waters, perhaps something filtering up through billions of years of history trapped in volcanic rock. All that remains are the echoes of something once grandiose enough to be considered divine, now passing into legend. The value of the Quench’s existence being, largely, extrinsic: That it is a secret (and that it remains guarded as such) and that access to it is controlled by a group who can dole out its gifts as payments and bribes in advancement of a more insidious agenda.
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