Molten flames blazed inside the furnace, blasting away at the resilient stone, causing scorch marks to appear throughout. In front of it, standing topless, Lino was carefully assessing the flame’s temperature, his eyes shining, brows faintly knit together. For the first time in his life he was using the flames Edryss gave him, [Dragon Frost Flame], for the entire smithing process. In his previous works, he’d at most use it during the crucial parts, but would never use them throughout. The fire burned in splendid azure, yet despite its name was not in any way, shape or form chilly -- if anything, it burned hotter than anything else Lino had encountered in his life.

Level 8000 flames were truly nothing to scoff at; they managed to melt the toughest materials he had within seconds, which meant that he would have to be extremely quick as to not let his poor materials wind up as ash or molten lava. Behind him was a rugged, wooden table, currently holding a variety of items, from small pieces of the ingot to gems, as well as several dozen parchments of paper strewn about seemingly at random.

Taking a deep breath, Lino settled the flames slightly as he turned around and walked back to the table, going over the designs once more. The entire creation of the Continental-tier item was wholly different from the rest starting with the design part itself; whereas previously Lino would at most use 2-3 pieces of paper to jot down both the item design as well as the arrays, right now he had to work with over a dozen, each depicting specific part of the ring he wished to fashion. He hadn't even drawn up the arrays just yet as just the idea had given him slight chills; each would have to be of at least Advanced-tier, which meant literal tens of thousands of lines to be drawn in the long run.

Shuddering at the thought, he quickly shifted his focus elsewhere, to the items. Though a few were from his own pockets, most of the ones on the table -- and in his void world -- belonged to the Prince who certainly wasn't shy when it came to giving stuff away. Each material on the table was at the very least Level 1,500. It wasn't merely that they were rarer or that they were better conduits of Qi, it was that items over Level 1000 obtained an additional property -- the ability to communicate with Laws. Usually, upon becoming a Level 1000 item, they would quickly be consumed by a Law, making it so that, regardless of desires, that specific item would always result in its own, innate Law stats.

Lino had expected to have to work tirelessly to nudge the results in his favor, yet who would have thought that at least ten percent of the materials the Prince sent weren't even associated with a Law -- meaning they were at least a thousand times easier to work with, as Lino could simply either impart the Law on them, or even combine several Laws... or leave them entirely blank for the wielder to do it.

As his idea, however, required specific Laws, he was unable to leave it to the Will of the Prince, though he doubted the latter would mind too much. For this undertaking, he hadn’t asked for anyone’s help -- not that he didn’t want it, but that even Jack and Edward would at most be able to help with some initial preparations. He was half-a-mind away from flying over to the fortress and simply asking Eggor to assist him, but he resisted; the old bastard would probably slap him and tell him to go away.

Running one last check over the items before beginning, Lino took a deep breath and shut out the rest of the world -- for the following weeks, if not months, he would talk to no one, see no one, and think of no one. He would usually at the very least leave a sliver of consciousness attached to his void world in case someone tried to contact him through the talismans, but this time around he couldn't afford it. He had to be entirely focused on crafting, otherwise, he was certain the item won't come out the way he wanted it. Besides, if it exceeds Prince's expectations, Lino licked his lower lip in anticipation, rewards might just increase... exponentially.

Casting away the stray thoughts, his mind grew emptied as he picked up a small ingot and began his work. Flames raged continuously, even when he wasn't using them. It wasn't as though that was necessary, but he did it nonetheless as part of practicing and further refining his skills with them. Though he managed to tame them, his mastery over them was still quite lacking.

Even though the ring would be small, Lino had to prepare a lot of materials as he basic idea resonated with something he'd learned while he stayed with Tim, Edith and the rest -- to squeeze all the material to a high density, whereupon a small ring would weigh as much as half a whole mountain. This wasn't merely to ensure the ring couldn't be destroyed, but also due to the fact that such creations innately had far more potential than ordinary items; they were able to process monumental amounts of Qi, hundreds of times more than the ordinary items, and they were able to process it far, far quicker. This allowed for additional possibilities when it came to the circulation of Qi and how it binds to an item.

In ordinary cases, Qi merely passes through the item, activating arrays which immediately transform it and expel it out of itself. Even still, regardless of how short this interaction is, it leaves a small dip in the item. That is why even the best ordinary items have an expiration date, regardless of how well they were made.

In the case of high-density, however, the idea switches around; there isn't an immediate need for Qi to interact with the array, undergo conversion, and immediately leave the item. It allows for brief storing, manipulation, and outright change that cannot be done elsewhere. This exact thing was what Lino needed for his idea; it wouldn't do to simply be able to process more Qi -- he had to craft the item so that the latter had absolute control over the Qi, as though it was a cultivator itself.

To reach such high levels of density, however, was not easy; Dragon Flames helped with liquefying everything, but they could hardly do much when it came to condensing it further -- that, Lino had to do all on his own, quite literally. Rather than to use any tools, he would have to use his own, bare hands as they were actually stronger and more resilient than any other tool he had. It would hurt, due to numerous reasons, but he’d have to endure, time and again, until he couldn’t make it any denser.

He mused for a moment that, even if the item didn’t turn out the way he wanted it, the Prince could simply throw it at people and probably break quite a few unsuspecting skulls.

Taking a deep breath, he focused on the poor, steel bowl halfway filled with silver liquid. His right hand opened up into a palm as he slowly bulged his muscles, driving Qi from all over his body into it before suddenly pressing down. A painful, ear-bleeding screech blared out into the room, causing Lino to frown. Liquid underneath his palm was blazing hot, scalding him as he focused on repeatedly recovering the lost Vitality. Bit by bit, he pressed on further down the bowl, condensing liquid in the process. What was originally a palm-sized piece of ingot had to now become a tip-of-the-fingernail-sized-thingy.

Cracks soon covered the steel bowl that could otherwise withstand a full blow from a Titular, causing Lino to break out into sweat; he didn’t expect the bowl to withstand it until the end, but he also didn’t expect it to break down quickly. If the bowl shatters, so will the table beneath it, and so will the floor. How far down will he have to dig until he condensed it enough? Had he any strength left, he’d have slapped himself in the back of his head for overlooking this simple fact. Right now, however, all he could do was offer prayers to the invisible and press on. If he stopped now, not only would he have wasted an immensely rare material, but would also probably lose his arm -- if not more -- as the now-solidifying liquid suddenly felt the bliss of having the pressure over it released, exploding out.

Muttering soliloquies, hymns, dogmas, prayers, and even utterly random nonsense, he could feel the liquid turning into a solid beneath his palm. By now it has reached its original size, slowly beginning to compress further under the pressure of his strength. Under that same pressure, however, was the poor bowl that had developed an eerie case of spiderweb cracks that ran amok over its surface. Just a bit further, come on dude, Lino screamed inside his mind, clenching his teeth as he quickly moved his other arm closer to his head in case it all blew up in his face -- figuratively and literally.

In the end, however, the bowl cracked, its splinters screeching through the air, half embedding in the wall on the other end, and a half winding up inside Lino's gut. He swallowed a mouthful of blood and rejected to believe there was pain, still pressing onwards. Just before the table cracked as well, into what would have become a shower of splinters that would scar him further, he felt it was done. Removing his palm that was currently smoking, reddened like blood, he picked up the small ball that was just slightly larger than a grain of sand.

“Well, that went well,” he grimaced. “Now I only need to do it about a hundred times more... oh, fuck me and my ideas. Why can’t I just do the normal thing like everyone expects? Fucking idiot... you stupid piece of shit... you goddamn, shit-eating moron..” as he continued to curse out himself, largely to help him ignore the fact that the pain in his palm was nearly making him pass out, he put the small grain away as he sat down -- it wasn’t to take a break, but to figure out how to complete the whole set, and then bind them together, without turning this small realm into a pothole paradise.


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About the author


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

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