Lino was currently standing on a massive, elevated platform surrounded by a circular stadium housing thousands of people who were all in unison roaring cheers at the moment. In front of him was a furnace, surrounded by a grindstone, a rack of tools, and a table full of materials needed for simple crafting. On the other ends of the platform were seven other people, totaling in eight for the first group of the first round of blacksmith competition which had finally started on the third day of the Annual Festival.
Erected up above the rest of the stadium, overlooking others like an eternal reminder, were the seats of honor, where most of nobility and whole of royalty were seated. Though others perhaps were unable to see who exactly was sitting up there, Lino was. He couldn’t have helped but chuckle bitterly for a moment when his eyes landed on Freya who was lazily stretching in her chair while someone was talking to her. He’d also spotted the Royal King and Queen at the central seats, surrounded by the Crown Prince Yox and Second Prince Relish, who, if not looked for specifically, would be hard to notice. At sides ranged nobility from Dukes to Barons, numbering totally in just short of a hundred.
Lino learned that blacksmithing competition is heavily attended every year due to the Kingdom’s natural, militant mindset and the ceaseless search for the young, talented blacksmiths. Though it was his first time standing in front of a such larger audience, he hardly felt any anxiousness or nervousness. As his goal wasn’t to win, or even do that well in the competition, he didn’t bear as much pressure as the seven people around him. Surprisingly, at least for Lino, there were actually two girls seemingly slightly older than him who were participating. The other five were either in late teens or young adulthood, and Lino seemed to be the youngest there, despite his physique being rather stout and unlike what his age would suggest.
“Hey,” being suddenly jolted out of his thoughts was something Lino was accustomed to, though not too happy with. He turned sideways and saw two young men standing there, both roughly a head taller than him, quite muscular. Both wore rather disdainful expressions while looking at him, as if he was too far beneath them to treat him otherwise. “You new?”
“Yeah.” Lino said simply, smiling lightly.
“Hey, don’t feel bad,” one of them said. “Every year we get the ‘filler’ crowd, that’s just there to fill the numbers, you know? Same goes for competitors. Just, you know, fulfill your role and you’re good.”
“Hm.” Lino faintly nodded, disinterested in the two.
“... as long as you understand.”
“I don’t actually,” Lino said suddenly, interrupting the two’s attempt to leave with a slightly confounded tone and expression. “Are you saying I’m supposed to suck and fail on purpose because, you know, that’s my role, or are you saying that I just plain suck in general and I was just invited here to fill the quota? You know, it’s really misleading the way you guys phrase it.”
“You know what? It doesn’t matter,” he added with a faint chuckle. “I suck either way, so what’s the issue, right?” Lino laughed, forcing the two of them to laugh along as well. “But man, it’s great to be standing here, you know? There’s so many people. I kind of feel, you know, inspired? Like I can suddenly craft the most marvelous shit in the world! It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it?”
“Ah, but I suck, you know? No matter how inspired I am, if I suck, what’s the point?” Lino interrupted again. “But... there’s always a chance, no? Like a miracle. Like, I’m holding the hammer, and I’m looking at the materials, and inspirations just strikes me like thunder and I just enter this phantasmal realm where every action is instinctual, and everything I do is being done by my higher consciousness, you know? One that memorized all that shit from textbooks and whatnots. Wouldn’t that be amazing?”
“But that’s not gonna happen, I mean, right? Ha ha, what are the chances of me suddenly being able to create [Epic] quality items every time whereas just yesterday I had one in three chance of doing it, right? Ha ha ha!”
“... ha, ha ha, yeah, you-you’re really funny--”
“Good, and you’re hilarious,” Lino said, sneering lightly at the two. “It’s good to be vain, just don’t it show guys. Then it’s just plain ugly.”
After seeing the two off, he sat down onto the chair and leaned lazily against the table behind. He truly had neither inspiration nor desire to craft anything, at least not anything good, but he still had to craft something, else he’d fall under suspicion. While other seven were clearly fired up to prove themselves and what they can do, only Lino looked somewhat gloom and disinterested. Though he tried his best not to be distracted as he was these past few days, it was truly hard to do. He was supposed to be looking for Demons and their nest and uncovering these massive secrets hidden behind the walls of the Capital, yet the most he could do was muster enough strength to get out of bed and stroll around the city aimlessly. He felt it would be different today as he had a certain purpose - however servile it may seem - and that it would fill up both his time and mind. While the former it did achieve, the latter not as much. Just as he was about to jolt himself from the dreamland, a faint yet vigorous voice called out to him.
“What’d you do to Jack and Earnst?” turning around, he spotted one of the two girls slightly older than him standing above, her arms at her waist, stance spread, looking down harshly at him.
“Who?” Lino asked, tilting his head in confusion.
“The two guys that just came back from you and turned into wet sheep all of a sudden. What’d you say to them?” she repeated.
“And you are?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“I just do.”
“Because I feel like it.” Lino said.
“Should I reply to your feelings then? What if you felt like you wanted to bed me and wed me? Should I comply to that as well? I don’t care what you feel like, just answer my question.”
“... you don’t go out a lot, do you?” Lino asked, smiling faintly.
“Just an observation, nothing else.”
“Why are you avoiding my question?”
“Because I think it’d be fun to see for how long you’d be able to endure without walking over and punching me in the face.” Lino replied honestly, still smiling.
“... you are a rather infuriating man. And, uncharacteristic of blacksmiths, you have a sharp tongue. I can see why they look like wet sheep.”
“What’s your name?”
“Why do you want to know?” the girl asked; her skin was slightly on tanned side while her muscles were rather toned, buffed over through her broad shoulders. She wore a basic blacksmith set with a fairly large hammer strapped to her belt on side.
“Not every question needs to have a logical reason behind it,” Lino said, leaning back once again. “I just like you, so I want to know how to call you.”
“I am sorry. I only find you slightly unpleasant, is all.”
“Hm, is that so? Any way I can remedy that impression?”
“I doubt it.”
“How about if I beat you in the competition?” Lino looked at her, squinting his eyes prancingly. “Proving that I’m a better blacksmith ought to remedy my tongue, no?”
“... you are too thin. It means you either don’t care much for the craft and just do it occasionally, or that you started just recently. Whichever case, you cannot defeat me. You should give it up.” she said in a confident tone.
“Really? I just think you’re afraid,” Lino got up and approached her, stopping only before their bodies nearly touched. “That someone younger, thinner and better-spoken than you could possibly stand a chance of also being better at crafting something. It’s okay, you know? I mean, we’re all afraid of stuff. For instance, I’m afraid of buckets. When I was six, I was forced to do the business there, but didn’t check, and the next thing I knew something jumped and bit my ass. I cried for eleven hours straight. Been terrified of buckets ever since.”
“I’ll take your silence as consent that you accept my challenge,” Lino smiled broadly, wrapping his arm around her shoulder quite naturally. “It’s gonna be wonderful watching you sweat over losing to me.”
“... you are a very disturbed, little man.”
“Well, I can’t say I appreciate the adjectives, but I do appreciate the sentiment. Good luck, whatever your name is.”
Hm, he stroked his chin as he watched the girl leave in slightly uneven steps, clearly still trying to process his entire being. Eggor told me to treat it as temporary distraction... I don’t have to win, but that doesn’t mean I should lose miserably, right? Every chance at crafting is a chance at improving. I shouldn’t ignore it just because I’m wussing over shit I can’t impact at the moment. Right, right, let’s craft something that will blow her away to tenth dimension. It should buy me some good will when I approach her later. This should be fun.