Lino puffed out heavily as he ran around like a dying dog. His entire face was flushed red and his simple, tattered clothes were doused in sweat. He was already half-hunched and was barely moving forward as droplets of sweat poured down from him, blazed underneath the scorching sun in the sky. Running like this for nearly four hours had completely exhausted every ounce of strength inside his body, and all that was left for him was to curse. But, even so, he had no strength to do it out loud so he could only curse in his heart. That damned old bastard!! To become a blacksmith, I need stronger body?! What the hell, couldn’t he have at least fed me until I had some fat on my skin?! Tsk, I’ll have to swindle his wife away for my revenge!
Although he cursed, he still continued ‘running’. Only about half an hour later did he finally come to a stop and collapsed directly, his face planted firmly on the earth. He stretched across the entire doorway of Ella’s and Eggor’s house, and the former screeched out in horror as she nearly stepped on him. For a moment she thought someone died, but once she saw that youthful, innocent face she smiled lightly before calling for Eggor who reluctantly carried him into the house and put him gently on the bed.
“He he,” seeing this, Ella chuckled lightly. “You’ve already taken a liking to him.”
“W-what?! No, hell no! This stinking brat? Humph! Never!” Eggor crossed his arms across his chest, but it was clear he was terrible at lying. The two soon left the room and headed to the living room, sitting down as they began drinking tea.
“I just wonder what kind of life has he lived to be so skinny… aah…” Ella sighed weakly, shaking her head.
“… what caught me off guard is the contrast,” Eggor said, sighing as well. “If you just looked into his eyes, he’d appear like someone who never lacked anything. Yet… an inch away and… aah…”
“Hm,” Ella nodded. “His will is really strong. Still… I can’t imagine he’s completely fine.”
“… why did you pick him, anyway?” Eggor finally mustered enough courage to ask; Lino’s been staying with them for the past three days, and this was the first time he dared ask his wife this question.
“I just felt like it.” Ella replied and smiled mysteriously.
“… ah, fine, fine. I won’t question it. However, you have to know that teaching that brat will be a miracle.”
“Weren’t you once known as Man of Miracles?” Ella asked, causing Eggor to choke on his own words.
“… khm, you know, even miracles have degrees of difficulties. I have a feeling teaching him blacksmithing will equal becoming an Immortal.”
“Ha ha, then you should be fine, as you’ve already done the latter one.” Ella laughed lightly.
“… that’s only because you helped me,” Eggor said, his gaze warm and loving. “Otherwise… aah, I would have gone ten feet underneath long, long ago.”
“Just promise me you’ll teach him seriously,” Ella said. “I have a strong feeling about that child.”
“… fine, fine. I’ll teach him properly. But, what if he doesn’t want to learn?” Eggor said, but even he himself knew it was a pointless question, so Ella didn’t even answer.
Didn’t want to learn? Eggor chuckled bitterly at the thought. Even though he barely had any muscle on him, he still accepted the task of running for nearly five hours every day. Whether it rained like yesterday, or scorched like today, he completed it. However, even beyond that, Eggor felt familiar determination blazing out of youth’s eyes. Lino was far from an idiot – that’s one thing Eggor realized almost immediately. Although he had a questioning sense of socializing, justice, morals, and all things which make up a fabric of a decent human being, he wasn’t an idiot. Even when given a golden hand, his distrust still played the role in reluctant acceptance. Eggor understood him, and even sympathized with him. How could he trust anyone? He’s probably been played with and betrayed over and over again since the day he was born. If he blindly accepted Eggor’s hand, he’d truly have been an idiot.
Lino slept almost until the night faded from the sky before finally waking up. He felt his stomach rumble and immediately went into the kitchen, shamelessly asking for dinner. Ella merely smiled warmly before handing him some baked potato and white cheese, which Lino casually wolfed before patting his almost non-existent belly. As he slowly rested, Eggor finally came looking for him and led him to the backside of the house for the first time.
When Lino entered, he felt an air of familiarity, although he had never been to this place before. That was because this was a blacksmith’s quarter – a place where miracles occur. On the left side of the room was a massive furnace, built in a way where its backside spilled directly into the wall. Its mouth was like a beast’s maw, but was currently cool and dark as no flame burned. Near it was a grindstone and next to a grindstone was a large table holding a whole heap of tools, from hammers, wires, broken pieces of stone and metal, and at the very edge were tongs and vises. At the very center of the room was a beautiful, yet also simple anvil, which exuded slightly ancient aura. Its surface contained many sharp scars which caused a stir in Lino’s heart. The anvil was supported by a thick concrete platform which was built directly into the floor.
In addition, there were several types of whetstones, a small hill of black coal, neatly lined stones and metals of all types… it was the most luxurious forger’s quarter Lino had ever seen, and his respect for Eggor increased slightly. However talented a blacksmith was, he would feel hampered without proper tools. Sometimes, if your anvil isn’t rough enough, weapon could slip, or if your furnace can’t contain strong heat, it could burn the whole place down.
“… amazing…” Lino sighed as he gazed at this small, yet perfect room.
“Eh? Finally impressed, you brat?” Eggor said, stroking his beard in pride.
“So many things… are you compensating for the lack of talent?” Lino asked.
“… cough…” Eggor spat out a mouthful of blood; this brat is truly hateful! “Khm, anyway, this will be the place where I’ll be teaching you. Now, before we get to the good stuff, I need to test your knowledge. What do you say?”
“Test away! My mind holds celestial levels of amazing knowledge!” Lino said confidently.
“Is that so? He he, we’ll see. Hmm… first, how many types of flames there are?” Eggor asked a rather simple question. Even ordinary people who’ve never even seen a blacksmith and just read a few history books would be able to answer it.
“Uh… a hot one… and, uh, a hotter one?” Lino asked, titling his head sideways.
“…” He’s playing with me? Heh, of course he is. This stinking brat!
“Oh, oh, I once heard Granny Rice say that there’s this super amazing flame that’s kind of blue, and instead of hot, it’s cold!! Is that possible, egg-shaped geezer?!”
“…” HE’S NOT PLAYING WITH ME!! Tears streaked down Eggor’s cheeks. Indeed, this brat had absolutely no knowledge when it comes to blacksmithing.
“Y-yes…” Eggor muttered weakly; alas, at least he knew where to start. That made it easier… somewhat. “Khm, much like everything in the world, all flames have Levels. However, between the Levels, there are so-called ‘Great Boundaries’. For instance, Level 1 and Level 20 Flames fall under the same boundary; although Level 20 Flame would undoubtedly be much stronger and better, it wouldn’t be to the point of completely suppressing the other. On the other hand, Level 21 Flame would be a whole new world. So, we categorize all Flames into Four Boundaries – at least those Flames that we have discovered so far. There is Mortal Boundary, for flames Level 1 to 20, Great Boundary, for flames Level 21 to 49, Mystic Boundary, for flames Level 50 to 99 and Peak Boundary for Level 100 Flames. However, most are certain that there are flames beyond Level 100, so we simply call these theorized existences Void Flames.”
“Did you remember a single thing?” Eggor asked, sweating.
“Mortal Boundary, Great Boundary, Mystic Boundary, Peak Boundary and Void Flames. Hm, I get it. It’s easy.” Lino listed them out with indifferent expression as he fell into thought. Eh? The brat’s got a pretty decent memory. “What are the differences? Like, major ones?” Lino asked.
“Hmm… explaining that is a bit difficult,” Eggor scratched his head as he organized his thoughts for a moment. “For instance, all flames in the Mortal Boundary only have the slightest of chances of granting special effect to the crafted item. And, even if by some miracle the special effect is attached, it will be abysmally weak. These flames are usually used to craft army weapons and armors, as they are extremely common and all blacksmiths can work with them. On the other hand, Great Boundary Flames require some level of mastery and knowledge on the side of a blacksmith, but also have much better chance of special effects, better sharpness, sturdiness etc. Of course, resources that Mortal Boundary Flames have no chance of melting and controlling can be melted by Great Boundary Flames. They are usually used to supply some great figures with weapons and armors, such as Umbra Kingdom’s King.”
“As for Mystic Boundary and above… that’s still too far for you,” Eggor said. “For the time being, you don’t have to know much about them.”
“Got it.” Lino said, his expression serious. Although he randomly bragged about being the greatest prodigy ever, who else was more aware about his lack of knowledge but himself? Seeing that the old bastard was teaching him honestly, he’d also learn honestly. “What about blacksmiths?” Lino asked. “Do they also fall under the same umbrella? Mortal, Grand, Mystic and Peak?”
“He he, I see you’ve finally started using your head to think.” Eggor said, smirking.
“Hm, well yeah, I was too preoccupied with stealing your wife to care much about it before.” Lino replied, smirking back.
“Y-you brat!!” Eggor gnashed his teeth but endured. “No, blacksmiths aren’t categorized like that. In reality, it’s much stricter. For instance, just Mortal Boundary Flames have 3 divisions of blacksmiths: Initiate, Beginner and Adept. Grand Boundary has 6 divisions, Mystic Boundary has 9 divisions, and Peak boundary has 12 divisions. So, in total, there are actually 30 levels of blacksmiths.”
“What the hell?! Isn’t that too much?!” Lino asked.
“Ha ha, of course it is. Most people don’t really use that system, but simplified 9 divisions system. However, you’ll learn them as you grow. Any other questions?” Eggor asked.
“… for now? None.” Lino said; I truly lack knowledge. Bleh, what can I do? Orphanage didn’t have a whiff of a paper, let alone a damn book. If I didn’t use to sneak out, I probably would never even have learned to read and write…
“Hm,” Eggor nodded his head lightly. “The further along the path of a blacksmith you go, the more you’ll realize just how vast it is. At the peak, it’s impossible to know everything. You’re bound to focus on a specific path and carry it out, whether that path be of weapons, armor, accessories, siege weapons, inventions etc. Very few, talented ones are able to step on two paths and not crumble.”
“What’s the difference between ordinary weapons and those weapons at peak?” Lino asked, somewhat curious.
“It’s the difference between heaven and earth,” Eggor said, his expression somewhat solemn. “If a normal weapon can cut a man in half, then a peak weapon can cut an entire mountain in half with a casual swing.”
“Of course, there are so few peak weapons that it’s almost pointless to think about them. You shouldn’t think about that too much. For you, it’s far more important to focus on building strong foundation. This means body, mind and heart. Train body so you can handle tougher metals and stones, and can endure long and dangerous sessions. Train mind so you can have a vast sea of knowledge which will let your creativity flourish when you begin making your own designs. And train your heart so you always pour every bit of your blood and sweat into every one of your crafts. This is my only requirement of you if you want to truly follow me: don’t ever make things half-heartedly. Do you understand?” Eggor said, his expression extremely serious. “Even if it’s a child’s toy, I want you to make it to the best of your abilities, and even beyond.”
“I understand.” Lino replied solemnly.
“Hm, good.” Eggor nodded, satisfied; there are far, far too many blacksmiths who simply pursue glory and riches scattered across the world. They search for glitter and shine, while their fundamentals slowly erode away. “I simply wanted to show you the room where you’ll be spending a lot of time in in the next few years. For the time being, you are far too weak and lack far too much knowledge to be able to do anything. Here,” Eggor reached under a small counter and suddenly pulled out six, thick books and handed them over to Lino, causing the latter to nearly crumble under their weight. The combination alone was nearly 20 kilograms. “For the next six months, you’ll be building your foundation. Your heart is already there, but your body and mind are severely lacking. Learn everything from those six books, and build up your body properly. Can you do that?”
“… I will do it.” rather than replying whether he can or can’t, Lino immediately said he will. He was the type to reply to honesty with honesty; Eggor was the first one who actually took time and seriously explained things to him. All others he went to would simply send him in a corner and told him to do this or that. Even if he, somehow, possessed heaven-defying talent, how much difference would that make if he was never given proper guidance? On the other hand, Eggor took time and not only properly shown just how little Lino knew, but also gave him a clear path as to what to do and how to overcome his shortcomings. Honesty is a wonder, and Lino deeply respected that, even if he still thought that old geezer’s flaring temper would kill him in the end. Little did the youth know that Eggor rarely got angry, and one could count the number of times he truly flared out throughout his entire life on one hand. That is, of course, until he met Lino.
“Good. Of course, I hope you know that you won’t be staying here for free, got it? So, when I tell you to clean, you clean. When Ella tells you to do something, you do it. You got that?”
“Ai, I got it, I got it. Geez, just don’t tell me to go to that backyard of yours and clean it. Even I couldn’t handle that embarrassment.”
Alas, Lino had already ran out, leaving angered Eggor behind to gnash his teeth in silence. In the end, the latter sighed and shook his head, smiling bitterly. Even he didn’t know how could the little brat make him so angry so often. However, he finally caught a glimpse of why Ella chose him. In the end, his bitter smile changed hues over to a relieved one. He had finally found a seed which he himself will cause to bloom into a beautiful flower, sometime in the future. I… I just hope that future won’t be like ten thousand years later…