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CHAPTER 41

BARREN LUSTER

Fires bellowed out like beasts while sounds of hammer clashing against metal and steel echoed out through the platform, creating a strange sort of rhythmic beat, one you could almost sing to. Unlike the other seven, though, who were hard at work, Lino was sitting leisurely with a pen and a paper, humming a low tune while drawing up his design. He could hardly be blamed for the fact that he hadn’t thought of anything to craft before coming here, which is why he found himself a whole step behind. However, they had full six hours to craft something simple, which he found plenty doable even with extra work.

Glancing over to the others, he noticed that some were already drawing their casts, while some were still preparing materials. One of the girls was crafting battle-ax while the other was crafting a buckler; the guys were either crafting swords or shields. As armor is more complicated than weapons, Lino figured that no one would try to craft anything like it - and he was not an exception. He drew up three designs and eventually decided on a simple, short-sword. It lacked any particular decorations, and would no doubt look as ordinary as anything you’d see in an abandoned armory, but he didn’t mind much the appearance of it.

Putting down the paper and the pen, he got onto his feet and stretched, yawning lazily. Audience was split between those who were cheering and paying attention and those who were dozing off to the beautiful wonderland of innocent sleep. He spotted Eggor in the distance who looked as disinterested as he could possibly be, and rather than focusing on Lino on the stage, his eyes were veering over the audience, clearly searching for clues. Lino sighed lightly, putting on the gloves and walking over the table with materials. He chose two simple, Level 15 ores, a small patch of wolf leather, and a couple of simple-looking herbs. He walked over to the furnace and, while blocking the view, used his Tri-Spirit Flame to slightly cheat. While the ores were melting, he walked over to the flat stone and began drawing out the mould and slowly shaping it up.

He completely shut off the cheering audience, the odd glances cast at him who was falling behind, and the scorn of those standing on the same platform, enjoying the same attention. He withdrew into his own world, where fabric of time and space ceased to exist, replaced by frigid tranquility. The sizzling sounds of melting ore, the cries of the flames, the thuds of cracking stone, the beating of his own heart, the droplets of sweat already curling up on his forehead. With his senses focused and sharpened, no detail escaped him, no matter how minute it may be. While finishing up his mould, he walked over and quickly collected the molten ore, dropping it whole into the mould and pressing until it fit perfectly into the edges. He then walked to the herbs and ground them with his bare fists, sprinkling them over the ore. While waiting for the latter to cool off, he picked up the patch of wolf leather and, using a short needle and his Qi, began drawing up a dual-array on its surface, a combination of <Explosive Array> and <Sturdiness Array>. His plan for the sword was for it to be durable and lasting rather than impressive-looking and dazzling. And his plan for Qi was something else entirely.

Even he hadn’t noticed just how much his perception of crafting had changed since he’d taken it up. While festering his dreams of becoming a blacksmith throughout his childhood, he always dreamt up golden swords, diamond-cast shields and dazzling armor pieces with glowing patterns. He dreamt up fascinating, exotic designs, a whole spectrum of colors, patterns, different protrusions... but he hardly ever thought of their usage. The whole conception of craft had flipped inside his head, as he mainly focused on functionality over design; rather, the latter was there to fulfill the former. Designs were tailored to suit the functionality rather than the other way around. He didn’t know what it was like for others, but he didn’t care much for it. He had his own principal ways and his own path to follow, one whose roots lay in why crafting was invented for in the first place: to ensure survival, in one shape or another.

As per usual, time ceased to matter for him while he crafted; hammering, shaping up the edges, drawing up conduits between the arrays, chiseling fine details, imparting his own insignia, by the time he had finished crafting the sword, he could hardly tell how much time had passed. Looking around, he saw that some were yet to finish, looking at him with somewhat panicked and odd gazes. He picked the sword up and inspected it, weighing it in his hand before checking out its stats.

[Stormy Queen - Rare]

Level: 30

Damage: 361-523

+10 Hand Speed

Special Effect: Impossible to destroy via ordinary means

Special Effect: Full swings gather more momentum, dealing extra 30% damage

Note: Deceptively ordinary looking sword, with explosive strength hidden behind its crude design.

Lino frowned for a moment as he inspected the stats, unsure of whether it was too good. Truth be told, he hardly knew the standards of the competition, and even Eggor told him to hold back somewhat. Looking back at his crafting, he limited himself to roughly 70% of his skill, even deciding to only use two quite common arrays that most of blacksmiths knew of. However, extra ‘Hand Speed’ and two Special Effects could perhaps be a bit of a shock to the rest. Eh, whatever, he thought, stroking his chin as he put down his sword. I can just say I had momentary bout of godly inspiration. They should buy that shit, right?

Hearing the footsteps echoing behind him, he turned around and saw familiar, starkly feminine face on a starkly masculine body. She had a rather proud expression, her lips curled up in a strange sneer which made her appear even more adorable, so much so that Lino barely held back from laughing out loud. Droplets of sweat glistened on her forehead while her eyes shone with brilliant light. Lino recognized those eyes; he’d have them each time he’d craft something he was proud of. A piece of pride brimming from your own creation. In her hand she held a round buckler, roughly a forearm’s width, built purely of cast metal. Though Lino couldn’t see its exact stats, because of his knowledge, he could venture a guess on the materials and techniques she used as well as rough stat estimation. Well, now I just feel bad... he sighed inwardly, remaining stoic on the outside.

“You done?” she asked.

“Yup. Nice buckler,” Lino said, smiling. “You that desperate to lose the bet you’d come over the moment you finished it? It hasn’t even cooled properly yet.”

“Hah, lose? I don’t think so,” she shook her head lightly. “I’m afraid you’ve overestimated yourself.”

“... hm, ‘s that so? Let me see the stats then.”

“Sure.” she handed over the buckler without hesitation causing Lino to nearly roll his eyes at her.

[Round Defender - Enchanted]

Level: 25

Defense: 209

+10 Maneuverability

Special Effect: Has a 5% to ‘Parry’ and ‘Reflect’ an attack on successful block

Note: A simple but well-designed and crafted buckler, sacrificing some defense for movement.

“Not bad, not bad,” Lino nodded lightly, stroking his chin. “You’re talented.”

“... you still don’t want to admit your defeat? Look at what you’ve crafted. It’s just an ordinary sword.” she said, taking the buckler back. Lino smiled faintly and handed the sword over. Just as she was about to scream out while reading its stats, she saw Lino’s finger pressed against his lips and a faint curl of his lips. “... who are you?” she asked in a shaky voice, while barely parting with the sword.

“The guy who’s just won the bet.” Lino said. “I think you owe me your name.”

“... it’s Shante.” the girl said, taking a deep breath. “Who are you? You are not a young, up-and-coming blacksmith looking for job. This sword alone could net you thousands of gold coins, and you look like you barely expended any effort on it.”

“Keen eyes.” Lino said, sitting down. “Mind if I offer you some advice?”

“No, please.” Shante said, immediately sitting down next to him, her eyes full of expectations. Lino couldn’t help but chuckle; she was truly a blacksmith, where as soon as craft is mentioned, everything else is forgotten.

“Your mould wasn’t good enough,” Lino said. “The choice of metal is terrible; [K’van Metal] is too heavy for a movement-based buckler. You should have used [Verran Steel]. Though the end result would give you a bit less Defense, it would be far easier to wield. All bucklers - by their very nature - have ‘Parry’ and ‘Reflect’ options. Your choice to inscribe arrays directly in-between the layers is just a waste of time. You could have instead created a mid-layer mould that would increase the buckler’s size temporarily. You also paid too much attention to the design; inner parts, hidden from the eyes, are rough, scrappy, ensuring that the buckler won’t last long on the battlefield.”

“...” Shante fell into deep thought for a moment as she went over what Lino said. “You’re right... no wonder you can craft a sword like that. Who’s your Master?”

“... just an old, bearded bastard with anger issues.” Lino said, smiling. “You like crafting?”

“... yeah. I love it.” Shante said, smiling widely, like an innocent child. “It’s the one thing I’m good at. Or, well, at least I thought I was...”

“Ha ha, you are,” Lino said, laughing lightly. “Don’t think that just because I listed so many things that what you crafted isn’t great. It’s a rare type of a buckler, and most of the Scout and Archer divisions would be lucky to get one.”

“... how’d you learn to craft that well? You’re not some old geezer pretending to be young, aren’t you?” she asked, squinting her eyes.

“... no, ‘m afraid not. I just... have a really good Master, is all.” Lino said. “Don’t tell him I said that, though. I’d never hear the end of it.”

“How would I tell him? You never told me who he was.”

“... I was making a joke.”

“Hm. You should stick to being a blacksmith. Joking isn’t your strong side.”

“...” Lino chuckled lightly, shaking his head. “Alright, good advice. How do you think the rest of them did?”

“... if what they’ve crafted is half as good as yours, I’d already be ready to hang my hammer up and leave. There’s probably no one who can beat you here, not in this group or any other. I don’t know whether to feel lucky or unlucky that you came to the competition the same year I did.”

“I wouldn’t worry if I were you,” Lino said, looking up toward the sky. “I don’t plan on sticking around for much longer.”

“... eh? Why?”

“... stage isn’t a place for me to shine,” Lino looked at her, his expression calm. “Forge is.”

“...”

“Well, you should probably go back. They’re about to start the inspection.” Shante nodded absentmindedly and got up, leaving. As Lino watched her receding back, he took the sword into his hands and stroked it gently before picking up the nearby knife and beginning to ‘alter’ it.

What he said to her was true; he had no intention of winning the competition, or this round even. Long gone are his dreams of luster, shine and gold while being showered in praise and applause of the masses. He’s yet to figure out what he will do about the whole ‘Demons’ situation, let alone anything else in regards to the future. He can’t have a swarm of nobles knocking at his doors and asking him to craft them something, which would no doubt happen were he to display the sword as it is. Sometimes, it’s better to hang up the crown and wear rags instead of robes. Sometimes, darkness is far more pleasant than brilliant radiance.

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About the author

beddedOtaku

Bio: Bad writer, worse painter, terrible singer. Accumulation of all things gone wrong. Rather proud of it, actually.

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