After designing and crafting the first piece of what will eventually become his main armor set, Lino once again hit a hurdle. As he didn’t expect that his effort would reward him with a Soul Armor piece, he didn’t take into consideration the fact that it would breach the norm and give him opportunity to craft a set. However much of a blessing it was, it was also a headache. After all, Set Armors – especially those with a Soul Armor at their core – couldn’t be made casually. There were very specific requirements both in terms of visual design, practicality and even arrays that could be inscribed on them. Since he didn’t have a plan on designing a whole set, now that he had to he was unable to plan it all from scratch and build each piece to support each other from core. This meant that, even when he finished all four pieces required for the Set, it still wouldn’t be perfect. However, he wasn’t discouraged; in the end, he treated it as yet another challenge and decided not to be rash about it. He could no longer design pieces independently, so before he had concrete and foolproof designs for all three remaining pieces – helmet, shoulder pads and arm greaves – he wouldn’t start crafting anything.
He had also informed Eggor of his success when the latter returned. After a few minutes of digesting the shocking information, Eggor also shared some of his own experiences when it came to designing sets. Lino learned that only the core armor of the Set could be worn independently and retain stats and benefits, while others could neither be worn independently nor without the core piece. In addition, supporting pieces had to follow the general design of the core armor, while arrays inscribed could only be auxiliary. That is to say, Lino wouldn’t be able to inscribe something like <Arrow Spread Array> into any pieces as it differed far too much from the arrays inscribed on the chest piece. But, something like <Flexibility Array> was possible as it was merely an auxiliary array that could easily connect with the main one.
Eggor and he practically switched places, as the former cooped himself up in the forge while Lino mainly resided inside his room, either studying up Advanced Arrays, rarer materials, special ores, special smelting, welding, combining etc. methods, or brainstorming designs of other pieces. Although the days sounded rather boring, he’d hardly felt the passage of time as he was too engrossed in it. He already knew that the trip to the Capital would be anything but ordinary, so he wanted to be as prepared as possible. However, based on his calculations, he realized that he’d be unable to design and craft the entire set before their departure. Because of this, he also allocated a few hours every day to studying and designing odd items that could neither be considered weapons nor armors, but utilities that could save his life one day.
“Eh, this looks good,” Lino nodded as he smiled lightly. He had already been cooped up in the house for over two months, and there was less than a month left until the Annual Festival. As he guessed, he was nowhere close to completing the designs for the Set, so he shifted more and more focus onto Advanced Arrays and odd items, one of which he just finished designing. “If I use [Velen’s Metal], [Draconic Leather] and [Fire Core], it should be just enough to craft it. I just wonder if that bastard’s done with the forge…”
On a paper in front of him, a strangely-shaped item was drawn, with countless lines spreading out detailing every nuance of it. At a first glance it looked like a double-layered cape that could be transferred into a whole-bodied cloak, but upon the closer inspection one could see various holes scattered about the design and strange patterns designated to be made of small, metallic rods and stuffed in-between the two layers. There were also four arrays lined up neatly next to the main design which would be inscribed on the inner parts of the piece, three of which were mix of Basic Arrays, while one was actually Advanced Array. Though Lino wasn’t confident in being able to inscribe the latter completely, he opted to try. Even if he failed, the worst that could happen was that the Advanced Array wouldn’t activate in the final product. In the end, he decided to first sleep for a while before heading over to the forge and trying his luck.
Surprisingly, when he came to the forge, he realized that Eggor had already left, leaving behind only a letter which read ‘Will be back four days before the Annual Festival. Don’t blow up my house.’. Sighing lightly, Lino entered the forge and laid down the paper full of designs on the table before he started shuffling through his void storage for materials. Alongside the three main materials that would make up most of the item, there were also dozen smaller, auxiliary ones, made up mostly of herbs and small patches of linen. The key didn’t really lie in trying to stich all the materials together and formulate the final product, but within the balance of three main materials as well as distribution and inscription of arrays. It was only recently that Lino realized why average quality of armor within Umbra Kingdom was so low. It wasn’t really because of the lack of exotic materials or skilled blacksmiths, but because of their very basic knowledge of arrays and material blending. For instance, if other blacksmiths inside the Bridge Village aside from Eggor heard that he was trying to combine a [Fire Core] with [Draconic Leather], they would probably curse him to death for his idiocy, as that would simply waste the [Fire Core] since [Draconic Leather] would absorb all its energy. However, what they didn’t know was that this could be fixed by blending a few herbs in during the processing, and two could actually co-exist without afflicting one another in any way. As far as the arrays went, they were exceedingly simple and mostly obtained from the rarely coming merchants from outside world. Forget <Void Array>, Lino was fairly certain that they didn’t even have designs for a simple <Lesser Weight Array>.
Learning this, in turn, made him respect Eggor even further. Ever since the old guy decided to train him, he was never stingy with knowledge. Rather, among the very first six books, Lino was given a full set of thousands of Basic Arrays. It was only because of this that Lino thought since they were basic, everyone knew them. Rather than materials and items required for crafting, knowledge was always the greatest bottleneck for craftsmen and blacksmiths. Lino knew that, with the exact same materials, he’d be able to craft a better item than any blacksmith in the entire Umbra Kingdom simply because he was more knowledgeable, not necessarily because he was a better smith. After sorting out his thoughts and pulling all the necessary items that he’d need for crafting, he was just about to get ready to start processing them when a signal inside his mind startled him. Pulling out an item from the void world, Lino’s eyebrows twitched; it was the communication talisman that was given to him by the bald guy from Dying Roses. Heh, the bastard waited long enough to thank me… Pressing it at the center, the talisman flashed in gold as Lino felt a strange connection being established inside his mind. A moment later, a familiar, yet distant, voice echoed out.
“Ho ho, it’s nice to see that you’re still alive kid!”
“No thanks to you, bastard.” Lino replied coldly. “You sent me to the fucking hornet’s nest without even telling me all the details.”
“Aii, my bad, my bad!” the old guy spoke apologetically. “But I myself didn’t know that the Demon was High-tiered, I swear! If I had, do you really think I’d play hide-and-seek and not just directly kill her?”
“… humph, how would I know what you are thinking? You sly old fox, don’t think you can trick me the second time!”
“… khm, how about this – you said you’re a blacksmith, right?”
“How’d you learn that?”
“Do you really need to know everything?” Lino could practically hear the old guy rolling his eyes.
“… fine. I am, so what?”
“How about I gift you some good stuff as compensation?”
“I’ve already got tons of good stuff from that Varick guy. Actually, I got a whole sect worth of good stuff from him.”
“Yaya, you’ve just got some cheap shit that old guy thought were treasures,” the old guy said. “When I say good stuff, I mean genuine good stuff. Like a whole gram of [Blackgod Iron].”
“… fuck. Where did your fat ass get that?!!” Lino exclaimed, clearly shocked.
“Oi, what do you mean fat ass?! I’m clearly a good-looking, fit dude! Humph, you’re a fat ass!”
“Fine, fine, I’m a fat ass! Forget forgiving you, I’ll suck your toes if you give me that shit!”
“… pu, you’re really a cheap bastard! Can everything about you be bought?!”
“Oi, don’t go aiming for my butt! At least give me more shit before.” Lino said shamelessly.
“… ah, why do I even try…” the poor old guy sighed. “Aside from that, I’ll gift you a batch of [Blood Wood], four fist-sized pieces of [Deepsea Ore] and a specialty of my Sect, [Rose-woven Silk].”
“… little guy, you there?” if the old guy could see Lino right now, he wouldn’t be asking if he was there but wondering whether he should send him to loony. Lino was currently lying on his butt, his whole body shaking, mouth agape, unable to take control of himself. Fuck, where was this sugar daddy hiding?!!
“Old bastard, I’ll take it! Say, how many more little girls do I need to kill, huh? Ten? Ten thousand? Fuck it, name the price!”
“… aii, what kind of a man do you take me for?!” the old man cried out.
“A very cheap one!”
“Fine, just as long as you give me those items!”
“… you know, before I contacted you, I was having a great time drinking tea and enjoying a peaceful lake. Now, there’s blood coming out of my ass.”
“What do I have to do with your hemorrhoid problem?”
“Khm, alright old guy, let’s not throw the blame around,” Lino said. “So, what’s the catch?”
“Why would there be a catch?”
“Ah, don’t fuck with me. Those items are worth about nine times more than the entire fucking Kingdom. Of course there’d be a catch.”
“Of course there’s a catch.”
“At least seethe my hopes a little before crushing them!” Lino complained. “So, what’s the catch?” he asked again, his voice taking a serious tone.
“You should be aware of the Annual Festival in the Capital, yes?”
“Yup.” Lino replied, already having a sense of dangerous forbearance inside his heart.
“Will you be attending?” the old guy asked calmly.
“… I will be honest with you,” the old guy said, sighing lightly. “This time around, there’s a high chance a massive battle might break out in the Capital.”
“Against Demons?” Lino asked cautiously.
“Demons and those allied with them.”
“Those allied with them? You mean humans?” Lino asked, furrowing his brows.
“Yeah,” the old guy said with clear anger in his voice. “In the end, regardless of everything, some people still can’t resist the temptation. Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated case. Moreover, the scale of this battle will be something neither you nor I can participate in directly.”
“Eh? What do you mean?” Lino suddenly felt he should stay as far away from the Capital as possible rather than going to it.
“Unfortunately, even I can’t say with full certainty.” the old man said. “However, just because we can’t participate directly doesn’t mean we have nothing else to do.”
“… elaborate.” Lino said, his previous playfulness and casual attitude completely gone.
“Due to the sparse Qi within Umbra Kingdom, without special treasures, it is impossible for those above Purity Realm in cultivation to remain for too long. This actually gives Demons home advantage, as ironic as that sounds.” the old guy said. “This, in turn, creates a strange vacuum; outside of the Capital, Demons still can’t do much as subversion of Qi is mainly focused on the Capital city while the surrounding area is still relatively okay. However, inside the Capital, not only will cultivators be marred by poor Qi, but the addition of Devil Qi will put even harsher chains on them. This means that it is nigh impossible to actually defeat the Demons inside the Capital as long as they have two-three Great Demons.”
“…” Lino remained silent as he knew there was more to the story.
“That is why I have a proposal for you. As you’re still in the Core Realm, you will hardly be affected by either the poor Qi or Devil Qi. During the Annual Festival, your task would be to try and locate the Devil’s Hideout.”
“… Devil’s Hideout?” Lino asked.
“It’s usually built deep underground,” the old guy replied. “And is divided into three portion: Portal Room, Incubation Room and Gathering Room. Naturally, those are just the names we assigned to them. Portal Room is where the Portal connecting our world to Hell is situated. As far as you’re concerned, you don’t have to worry about this as even if you found it, you could not even approach it, let alone destroy it. However, if you do find it, immediately report to me. Your task will be to locate Incubation Room; this is the area underground where the so-called Incubated Demons are stored, in other words infants yet to be properly birthed. I don’t know how Varick managed to snatch a single egg from the Capital, but the likelihood of it coming from the Incubation Room is extremely high. You’ll be able to recognize it easily as all ‘eggs’ have oval appearance and seem to be woven with spider silk. However, those cocoons are extremely resilient and at least Great Boundary Flame is required to burn even the weakest of them. Your job would be to locate the room and set up a formation that I would teach you once we meet up in the Capital. Naturally, aside from those materials I promised you, I’d also gift you a few things which will make it easy for you to sneak around unnoticed.”
“…” Lino entered deep thought; if he were to be honest, he didn’t like the idea of sneaking around, looking for Demons’ birth ward in the city. However confident he was in himself, he knew that as a recently leveled-up Level 41 Core Realm cultivator, he was extremely weak. However, he also knew that this was a two-edged dagger; not only was this an opportunity to profit and increase his experience, it was also a chance to directly influence a greater-than-life event that would undoubtedly take place. Though the old guy didn’t disclose everything, Lino realized that only cultivators of at least Peak Mystic Realm would be able to engage directly in the battles. Someone as weak as he was couldn’t even serve as cannon fodder, which would limit his role to a simple spectator. In the end, he was still unwilling to become that; as he’d already made a decision to become both a peak level cultivator as well as legendary blacksmith, hiding his neck all the time wouldn’t help him in any way. He realized that as long as he pushed forward, he’d never be short of ways to survive thanks to <Empyrean Writ>. In addition, this was a good chance for him to complete the requirements for the Third Evolution, which would also help him open the Second Gate. After short pondering, he took a deep breath and replied: “I’ll do it.”
“… are you sure?”
“Yeah.” Lino knew that the old guy didn’t want him to think this mission of sorts would be easy, and wanted him to think it through carefully before replying, which is why he answered seriously.
“Very well,” the old guy said, rather happy. “With Endo Clan gone and Heavenbloom Sect still hiding somewhere, Dying Roses is ill-equipped to handle this alone. I’d also like to ask you that before departing for the Capital you craft an item that can hide your Qi. Seeing as you’ve already crafted the [Celestial Plate], it shouldn’t pose too much trouble to you, no? After all, to sneak around properly, you best never leave any trace.”
“… don’t worry about it.” Lino said. He also felt some gratitude toward the old man; he didn’t know that items that hide Qi could actually be crafted. He could finally have a decent explanation as to why he never emits any Qi without exposing <Empyrean Writ>.
“Alright, then that’s settled,” the old man said. “I’ll meet you in the famous Black Bear Inn within the Capital a day before the Annual Festival. We’ll discuss things in detail there.”
“I’ll see you then.”
After ending the conversation with the old man, Lino slumped down onto a chair and entered a deep thought, completely forgetting his initial excitement over crafting the special cloak. Though he already guessed that his trip to the Capital would be all but simple, complications had already reached the stage where they were giving him a headache. He naturally didn’t fully trust the old man as there was certainly far more truth to it than what he was being told. But, in the end, this was due to his lack of strength. He was just a measly Level 41 Core Realm cultivator. Speaking broadly, even if he had to fight with core Kingdom’s forces, he’d still fall short, to say nothing of existences on Ella’s level and above. Luckily, though, this time around he didn’t have to kill anyone, merely locate some underground places. Though he clearly knew that it was far from being as easy as it sounded, it was still much better. He could take his time investigating and looking for clues instead of blindly rushing into the belly of the beast only to wait for slaughter. It took him nearly an hour to fully sort out his thoughts, after which he once again looked at the materials he prepared on the table. He gritted his teeth and grew determined: before departing for the Capital in less than a month, he had to complete the cloak, upgrade the [Celestial Rod] and modify [Celestial Plate]. Though neither of the three increased his defenses directly, he knew they would play a direct role in his survival. He also quickly modified the arrays for the cloak and slowly began planning ahead on how to upgrade [Celestial Rod] and modify [Celestial Plate] while processing the materials for the cloak.
Because only [Velen’s Metal] needed some basic restructuring, he didn’t heat up the furnace and instead decided to use his Tri-Spirit Flame directly. Though the flame had served him well, he realized that its usage would cease to be that grand very soon, which is also one of the reasons why he desired to push for the Third Evolution and Second Gate in hopes of obtaining another Primal Fire Spirit of higher grade. [Fire Core] was in spherical shape, exuding faint but powerful crimson glimmer, and was rather hot to touch. [Velen’s Metal] on the other hand was a naturally processed metal that appeared only in volcanic areas, and one could say that it was one of the nature’s miracles. The metal’s surface was smooth as if it was processed directly by human’s hand, and it was cool to touch. The piece he held was not large, but as the metal would be mainly used for conduit in-between the two layers, he didn’t need much of it. Slowly melting it, he also began shaping it into rods and separating sections after which he began welding them slowly in a strange pattern. After he was done, he put them down to cool before moving over to the [Draconic Leather] and [Fire Core]. Luckily, [Draconic Leather] was already processed; in its raw form, it had to be dried for at least a year, let alone any further processing, which Lino definitely couldn’t afford. After combining six similarly shaped herbs, he turned them into a strange, black paste and melded them on both sides. While waiting for the leather to absorb and assimilate the paste, he began injecting his own Qi into the [Fire Core], alongside Tri-Spirit Flame, slowly cleansing away impurities.
With his free hand, he created another mixture of herbs, this time mixing it with boiling water and turning it into a wholly transparent liquid. He directly stashed the [Fire Core] into the boiling combination and left it there to seethe. As the leather had already assimilated the paste, he began slowly stretching it and extending it to the size of an average, ankle-length cape, while cutting and stitching back the edges. He paid great attention to the area around the collar, where the first metallic rod was slowly being sewn in; it formed a mechanism through which the dual-layer cape could shift and form a full-body cloak. The metallic rods ran throughout the entire space between two layers. Not only would they act as the driving mechanism of change, they were also direct conduits for arrays, as [Draconic Leather] alone – even if reinforced – wouldn’t be able to endure prolonged usages. By the time he was done with assimilated the rods and the leather and completing the mechanism of change, the [Fire Core] that he had left inside the boiling liquid had seemingly drank all of it in a gulp, leaving nothing in a small pot besides itself. Nodding in satisfaction, Lino didn’t dare to pick up the [Fire Core] directly and could only use iron tongs and hope they wouldn’t melt under massive heat. Luckily, as these were all tools that Eggor himself had personally crafted and reinforced, they were rather resilient to massive heats, so Lino’s worries were for naught.
He quickly went over to the cape and opened its mid-section between the two layers; the mechanism of the metal roads circulated around in the strange pattern, like a maze, eventually converging toward the central part where a clear, circular opening awaited. Taking a deep breath, Lino slowly placed the [Fire Core] in the opening and immediately focused. This was the most important part of the entire crafting process – inscribing the arrays before the [Fire Core] burned the whole thing up. After some slight earlier modifications, he only planned to inscribe three arrays – two Basic ones and a single Advanced. Two Basic arrays were combinations of several others, and Lino named them <Fire Control Array> and <Insulation Array>. As their names suggested, their entire job was practically to control the [Fire Core]’s energy and nothing else. As for the Advanced array, Lino didn’t dare make any modifications as he simply lacked knowledge for it. He set his sights on the <Adept Cloaking Array>, a higher version of the Basic <Cloaking Array>. The array’s job was to isolate all signs of life and increase his stealth during the night.
As he slowly poured Qi into his fingertips, time passed. Sweat droplets quickly formed on his forehead as he carefully inscribed every line bit by bit. Shortly after, he could already feel the surface of the cape heating up. Though the metallic rods were isolating as much heat as possible, without arrays, they were far enough from being able to do their job. If it was the original [Fire Core], they might have even stood a chance; however, Lino reinforced the core three times over and increased its energy and capacity tenfold, which made it so that only materials of Absolute Ice could act as direct insulators without any arrays. Seeing that he didn’t have much time left, Lino braved his heart and increased the speed of inscribing twice over. After a minute, he finished inscribing the <Fire Control Array>. The heating up of the cloak paused for a moment, but Lino knew it was only temporary control. Without even bothering to wipe the sweat off his forehead – let alone rest – he immediately proceeded to inscribe the <Insulation Array> directly around the [Fire Core], connecting the array’s main channels in a circular fashion and converging them all toward the cape’s center – [Fire Core] itself. A minute quickly passed by, but the array was only half-finished while there was already smoke rising directly from the cloak. Thirty seconds later, the metallic rods lost their silver luster and became crimson. Two minutes since he started inscribing the second array, the metallic rods began bending and their welded corners looked like they’d soon crack. Seeing this, Lino panicked for a moment but quickly calmed down; if he lost concentration now, he’d definitely fail. If he kept calm, there was still a chance. Another thirty seconds later, the first support beam cracked – Lino knew that this would lead to a chain reaction and immediately increased speed of inscription. If he had to fail, he’d at least fail at his own terms rather than leaving it up to luck. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any materials that could directly increase [Velen Metal]’s resistance to heat, which led to such predicament.
Seconds ticked by and the entire structure of metallic rods looked like it’d burst apart and explode. Seemingly just as it could no longer take it, Lino drew the final line and connected it all perfectly. Golden light immediately flared up and covered the entire cloak, and he could immediately feel the heat under his fingers dissipating. However, he didn’t relax – though there was no longer chance of directly ruining the whole item, there was still the last part – inscribing the Advanced array. Of all the things, Lino lacked the confidence for this the most. After all, this would be his first time trying to inscribe an Advanced array. Truth be told, he didn’t even completely master the Basic arrays to say nothing of others; though he could easily inscribe all Basic arrays he knew of, and even combine majority of them, the minimum requirement Eggor set for him before trying to move onto Advanced arrays was to be able to combine at least six Basic Arrays and actually create an Advanced array directly through that process. As Lino didn’t have that much time to devote to researching Basic arrays for the time being, his only choice was to try luck directly with the Advanced array. If it wasn’t a crucial array that would practically determine the item’s nature, Lino definitely wouldn’t do something so amateurish. By the time he was near the end of inscribing <Adept Cloaking Array>, his Qi was running at reserves and he could feel weakness overtaking his whole body. Throughout crafting, Lino realized one thing: unless he was proactively fighting a tough battle, <Empyrean Writ> would practically remain dormant and just do basic replenishing circulations. No matter how much he urged, it’s like the method didn’t even hear him. No matter how much he cursed, he knew he couldn’t change it so he had to always take into consideration the amount of Qi he had when inscribing arrays. Non-cultivating blacksmiths naturally didn’t use Qi to inscribe arrays but various rare materials, which made it so that as long as they had enough materials, array inscription was the easiest process for them. For Lino, it was the toughest one. However, each time he’d deplete his Qi during the crafting, after he’d replenish it, he realized it would become purer and denser, which was the only silver lining he found in the whole situation.
As he finished the last line, he didn’t even have enough strength to see the beautiful black light flash and enwrap the whole cloak, simply slumping over onto the floor and passing out. Aside from the battle against the Patriarch Varick, this was the most tired Lino ever felt ever since coming under Eggor’s wing. Not even running forty kilometers with weights strapped around his calves under scorching sun ever exhausted him this much that he directly passed out without having an ounce of strength to resist it. Aah, dammit, looks like to become a legendary blacksmith, I really need to cultivate more and increase my Qi… otherwise, how can I create Godly Artifacts with this puny amount?! What Lino didn’t know, though, was that majority of Mythic-ranked and up items were actually crafted in stages, and very rarely would one be made entirely in one go. Even Eggor, to craft the pyramid-shaped necklace, did so in three stages rather than doing it all at once like Lino. After all, mental concentration required for such high-quality items was simply not something spades of people had. Suddenly, a familiar, robotic voice echoed inside of his mind.
[… Analysis Complete…]
[… Purity of Qi achieved Base Level…]
[… Bearer has gained access to Archaic Records…]
[… Analysis Complete…]
[Archaic Records – Q’vil’s Last Stand unlocked…]