UMBRA MOUNTAIN RANGE
Soon enough, an entire year had passed since Lino began living with Eggor and Ella. He had already reached Level 25 in the meantime, and he felt his body was firmer than even ordinary plate armor. In addition, old bastard Eggor finally allowed him to craft again, but, after his [Celestial Rod], all his creations either weren’t, well, created, or they were at most sub-par. After all, the road of blacksmithing was long and arduous; even if he had some talent, he knew that he had to work hard at it.
However, the thing that he had made the most progress with were, surprisingly, his sword skills. Every night, he’d either practice on his own or spar against Ella. When he first picked up the sword, he would at most madly swing it around with some impressive force. However, as of recently, his strikes followed certain stance, reason and logic, and he slowly began developing his own fighting style. Considering the strength of his body, he could have opted for the gigantic broadswords or even great swords, but he decided to stick with the short sword instead. The reason was rather simple: it was much more flexible. It could be used to pierce, swipe, slash, parry and even block. What struck Ella far more, though, was the fact that he developed somewhat of an auxiliary skill when it comes to sword fighting. Because of his body’s strength – which had long surpassed average adult’s – the sword would sometimes slip from his grip and fly off. He once even managed to wound her slightly by accident, which got him thinking. That, in turn, led to the development of the Flying Sword Style! Of course, the swords weren’t actually flying. It’s just that his strength shook then so hard that they were much faster than ordinary strikes once he flickered them out of his grip.
While somewhat unorthodox, Ella realized that with the help of some special Void treasures where he could store items, he could develop it into a form of a deadly trump card, or even integrate it completely into his fighting style. It would no longer be rigid and restricted, but would have several layers of depth laid atop of each other, making him unpredictable. With that line of thought, she encouraged him to practice it further and increase his accuracy.
In that fashion, he had spent the past 4 months since his birthday, continuously improving. Although he wasn’t aware exactly how strong he was as he never fought anyone outside of Ella, he was certain that he was at least above average if nothing else. Meanwhile, he learned yet another secret of the blacksmithing: formations.
Formations – or as some called them magical arrays – were firmly rooted into any advanced form of blacksmithing. They would take form of an agent to draw energy of a specific element and imbue the weapon or armor with it. For instance, in order for a sword to attain elemental property of fire, a basic formation which could draw fire elements out of the Worldly Energy would have to be inscribed onto the sword’s surface. With that, he was gifted yet another book: 8000 Basic Blacksmithing Formations. Like with others, he studied it in detail and was astonished with some of the formations.
For instance, there was one which inched toward the advanced-level formations called Space-tear Formation. The weapon inscribed with this formation would be able to pierce through the space directly, instantly appearing at least half a meter away from where it was. Thinking about how much this simple strike would influence the battle at its peak, Lino shuddered as he felt cold sweat pour down his back. He swore that, once he’s more experienced, he’d inscribe this onto every one of his weapons.
He was already familiar with the so-called Void Crafting, which was auxiliary field of blacksmithing. It dealt with creating small, isolated pockets of space which could store items of all kind. He was far, far, far away from being able to actually craft them, but Eggor promised him one when he decided to go out adventuring. After all, in order to truly grow – both as a blacksmith and a cultivator – staying in the same room and the same village would do him no good. Good materials were scarce here, and only in the wild would he be able to find extraordinary items which would further his knowledge and experience.
On the one year’s anniversary, the trio banqueted fine meat and drank somewhat bitter ale as they chattered happily. It was already deep at night, and most streets have been emptied of people while windows flickered in lanterns’ lights.
“I’ve decided,” Lino suddenly exclaimed. “I’ll depart for the Umbra Mountain Range next week, and stay there at least half a year.”
“Oh?” Ella looked at him, somewhat surprised. “What instigated that?”
“… aii, my heavenly lady,” Lino got into habit of giving Ella strange nicknames. When it first occurred, Eggor nearly caved his chest in from how hard he beat it like an ape, but by now he had grown accustomed to it. However, each time Lino would speak that way, a dangerous flicker would flash by the old bastard’s eyes. “I’ve hit bottlenecks both in my cultivation as well as my blacksmithing. For this past month, I haven’t moved an inch in regards to my Levels, nor have I crafted anything that was worth more than a fart. I’ve realized that it was due to lack of experience…”
“Hm, good choice,” Ella said, smiling lightly. “Although Umbra Mountain Range isn’t that dangerous, you should still be careful. There are many bandit groups residing deep within, and I heard rumors that there are even some Level 50 and up beats living toward the six peaks.”
“Yeah, I’ve studied the range in detail,” Lino said, a flicker of determination passing through his eyes. “All peaks are definitely off limits; even Kingdom’s strongest feel their hair stand up when someone mentions peaks. The land directly beneath the peaks is considered red zone; although it has a fair share of rare resources, herbs, ores and such, it is filled to brim with high-leveled monsters. Beneath that is the so-called bandit zone; each mountain within the range hosts at least 3 large groups, but they’re on the relatively weaker side than the beasts from the red zone. Still, it’s best I don’t provoke them as they know the range much better than I do. Right beneath them is the land most others do their adventuring at. While the notable resources are rare, it’s much safer in comparison. I’ll mostly stick to that area and see how things go.”
“Hm, good,” Eggor nodded in a rare moment of approval. “Remember: unless provoked, don’t provoke. Life is too short to bicker with others!”
“… says a guy who’s at least ten thousand years old. Humph. Life is too short? Screw you, old bastard! You’re too short!”
“Khm, enough you two,” Ella interrupted, fulfilling her role perfectly. “Alright Lino. If you’ve made up your mind, go and prepare properly.”
For the following week, Ella’s training sessions intensified. Lino came off worse for wear every time the two sparred, and he had even suffered some relatively serious injuries. However, Ella would feed him a strange pill each time and, within a few hours, he would be as good as new. Although the sparring sessions turned somewhat deadly, they were also extremely beneficial. His fighting style grew more polished and his battle instincts seemed to have awoken on their own. He could faintly sense danger approaching even if he was unable to see the attack itself, which increased the length of the sparring sessions.
Meanwhile, Eggor seemed to have vanished someplace. Throughout the entire week, Lino didn’t even catch a whiff of him. Although slightly surprised, he didn’t ask any questions as he continued to spar with Ella and further his understanding of how Primal Spirits influenced his body. For instance, Gu, Primal Spirit of Earth, made it so that even Ella’s strikes – as long as she didn’t infuse any Worldly Energy into them or used any martial art – could at most pierce two inches beneath his skin. Ye, Primal Spirit of Water, made his body extremely flexible, which came in handy as he even began utilizing it into his fighting style; he would occasionally bend his body in strange ways and fling a sword from Ella’s dead angle, making it so that even she had to exert some effort to defend. Even Ra, Primal Spirit of Fire, which he believed would only grant him Tri-Spirit Flame, proved to have some offensive capabilities. For instance, he could infuse some fire energy into his strikes, making them nearly twice as strong. As for the Primal Spirit of Wind, Li, its usefulness in battle was rather limited. However, when it came to running in a straight line, Lino quickly realized he was unrivaled. At his top speed, he reached nearly 200km/h, which shocked even Ella stiff. Although he was unable to endure such speed for long and backlash following it was anything but light, if he ever found himself in a deadly situation, he was certain that unless a person could fly, nobody would be able to catch him.
So, in such fashion, seven days passed and the day of his departure arrived. Umbra Mountain Range was roughly 40 kilometers away from the Bridge Village, and was situated toward West. It acted as a form of a boundary between two major districts of the Umbra Kingdom – Western and Central Districts. Beyond the mountain range was the Western District, which was best known for the fact that majority of the Kingdom’s army was born and bred there. Central District, on the other hand, was more politically oriented, and is known also as the Noble District, as most of the Nobility of the Kingdom resided there.
This mattered little to Lino, though, as he merely wanted to catch a few rare herbs and mine a few rare ores and precious stones. At the edge of the village, he stood in front of Ella and Eggor, his expression slightly somber. He wore slightly cyan overcoat beneath which strips of leather armor could be seen. To his right, around the waist, a short sword was holstered, and he donned knee-high leather boots on his feet. His hair was tied up in a strange bun, making him appear slightly mystical.
“Oh, right,” Eggor suddenly exclaimed softly as he reached into his pocket; his face was slightly pale and haggard and his eyes were somewhat bloodshot, as though he hadn’t slept or seen the sun in a while. “Here.” from his pocket, he took a strange, pyramid-shaped jade necklace and handed it over. All three sides of the pyramid were even, and strange, runic stripes ran through its surface. Lino’s eyes suddenly flashed in shock as he staggered backwards.
“This… this…” he muttered slowly as he breathed in coldly. He recognized those runic stripes: it was a formation! And not just any old formation – a Void formation! It was a Void Storage Necklace!! Lino quickly inspected its stats upon which he nearly felt like crying.
[Jade Necklace – Mythic – Level 20]
Special Effect: due to the unique properties, has a special, spatial pocket within. The size of the storage space is 64x64x64.
Special Effect: by touching the bottom side of the necklace, activate a special shield which will neglect the next three attacks from under Level 100 hostiles. The shield takes 2 days to recharge.
Special Effect: Bound. Can only ever be used by a person who makes the Blood Contract with it. Current owner: None.
Note: Crafted through the madness of perseverance. Although limited by the materials and level, it is unprecedented among its peers.
“You… you disappeared for a week to craft this?” Lino asked, looking up at weakly smiling Eggor.
“Aii, don’t look at me like that brat, it’s creepy!” Eggor exclaimed, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s no big deal. I promised you a Void treasure before you went adventuring, and I delivered! Ah, you also have 50 identical swords stored inside that are like the one strapped to your belt. You know, in case you decide to throw one or two away.” although acted as though it was not a big deal, Lino knew otherwise. How could he not? Although he was just taking baby steps when compared to Eggor, he was also a blacksmith. Crafting Void Treasures required time the most, yet Eggor did it within a week! Lino could hardly think it was easy.
“… thank you.” there was no need to say anything else. Those two words were spoken from the bottom of his heart, with utmost sincerity. Despite their quibbles, the two of them have grown much closer through the year, and Lino even began thinking of Eggor as a father he never had. He scolded him when he did something bad, he encouraged him when he was down, he gave him pointers when he was confused… deep down in his heart, Lino promised himself that for as long as he lives, he will do his very best to accomplish whatever Eggor asks of him.
“I’ve also put some provisions in there,” Ella chimed in, smiling with deep warmth and comfort. “However, they won’t last you long, just a month at most. I don’t want to spoil you, you know?! You have to learn how to take care of yourself!”
“… thank you.” Lino repeated the same words and bowed deeply toward the two. He didn’t know what else to say. However flowery his tongue may be in ordinary days, he felt it was tied up right now into a knot that would never be unwound. “Don’t be missing me too much guys.” however, he quickly steered his mind sideways and went back to his usual self. “Especially you, my dreamy maiden! Hai, I can’t believe I’m leaving you alone with this beast! What if he suddenly goes mad?!” by now, Lino was already running and shouting while Eggor’s white face suddenly turned molten red.
“YOU BASTARD!! HOLD RIGHT THERE!! GIVE ME BACK SEVEN DAYS OF SUFFERING!!!” Ella merely chuckled; before Lino arrived, Eggor was mostly dispirited. She knew very well how many things weighed on his mind and, unfortunately, most of them had something to do with her and their past. She couldn’t help him, no matter what she did. Yet, with the arrival of that little scoundrel, Eggor grew livelier and livelier as the days went on. “Humph, just wait till he comes back. Humph, I’ll feed him bricks for a whole year!”
“He he,” Ella chuckled as she wrapped her arms gently around him from behind. “Doesn’t it kind of feel like we’re sending our son away?”
“…” Eggor remained stiff for a moment before his face grew ever redder. “Humph, how can you call that thing our son?! Pu! I’d rather you give birth to a toad than call that thing my son! Pu, perish the thought, woman!”
Meanwhile, Lino had already ran far off from the village and was now walking down an unfamiliar road which led toward the Umbra Mountain Range. His expression flickered often with complex emotions. It was the first time he left the Bridge Village, yet he felt far more reluctant than he thought he would. Most of it had to do with Ella and Eggor, though, the odd pair of Immortals who became his teachers. However, Lino realized that that was merely pretense; they gave him tools by which they wanted to ensure he lived a proper life in the future, and maybe even make something of himself. They pulled him from the gutter and leveled him onto the firm ground. Even today, a year later, he still felt like all of this was a dream. Out of nowhere, he had met two people who genuinely cared for him. Throughout the whole year, his heart grew more and more dependent on seeing those two faces every day, making sure that all of this wasn’t just a dream. He dreaded waking up every morning, thinking that his blissful dream might just come to an end.
While others may have already grown accustomed to such changes, he was unable to. After all, on that night, in the ‘backyard’, he was truly lost. He didn’t have any experience with surviving. He had no clue as to what to do next, and the only reason why he didn’t burst out into tears was because he didn’t drink water for quite a while and was afraid that releasing more water from his body would speed his way to death up. Then, a hand reached out toward the chasm that had imprisoned him, and pulled him out with the strength of a giant. Dark, bellowing clouds were perished, and brilliant sun shone upon his life. He was given not only purpose, but also means to pursue that purpose. Food and water and the warm bed were secondary to him; it was the knowledge they imprinted on him, the care by which they attended him, and the warmth of their eyes and smiles which truly shook his soul. He suddenly shuddered and glanced backward, more reluctant than ever to leave. However, deep down, he also knew that he had to leave. Truth be told, he didn’t hit any bottlenecks. He could easily continue growing stronger inside the safety of that house and surrounded by the two most important people in his life. But, he felt it was a waste. Their knowledge, strength and wisdom far outstripped his. He was like a newborn babe looking up at the giants. If he stayed in the safety of that house, he would never grow properly to stand on his own two feet. If he is to ever try and help them in any way, the only way he could do that was by going out and seeing the world and growing up on his own.
Although, on the surface, he may appear to be an idiot who simply let nuances escape him, he realized quite a few things. Under no ordinary circumstances would two Immortals from legendary Sects and Clans be spending their days like ordinary people in some backwater village. And, even if they did, they would be Kings and Queens who ruled the entire country, and not a shabby blacksmith and a housewife. Whatever was weighing on their minds was something that even they – as strong as they were – could not do anything about. However, he promised himself that he would, even if he had to carve out his entire body in the process. For that sole reason and purpose, he decided to leave.
“Just wait,” he mumbled as he suddenly reached into an inner pocket of his coat and gripped tightly an object in the shape of a sword handle. Naturally, that object was his very own [Celestial Rod], fully equipped and ready to be unleashed at a moment’s notice. “By the time I come back, humph. I’ll be Level 300! Wait, no, Level 600! No, I’ll the first ever person to reach Level 1000, and I’ll see that old bastard try and argue with me again! Humph…” with a cold snort and a final glance at the disappearing village, he slowly trickled off toward his destination, wind blowing gently against his back, as if it was giving him a helping hand…