THEORY OF THE CRAFT (II)
Repeated experimentation had proven quite futile as the trio sat onto the floor with sunken shoulders. Every single pair of materials Lino had tried blending together through sheer force had rejected the combining completely, usually resulting in a violent backlash that was only contained completely thanks to Vy.
The room surrounding the anvil looked as though it was the epicenter of a world-shaking earthquake, causing Lino to smile bitterly. Glancing at his hands, blisters that even he couldn't heal immediately swelled over his palms. After all, the violent explosions resulting from the backlash were beyond anything that ever hit him directly at such close proximity.
“… it’s pointless,” Eggor sighed, glancing at Lino with a faint worry in his eyes. “You’re just hurtin’ yourself for no reason now.”
“—I really thought I could do it,” Lino said. “The worst part is that I wasn’t even able to pinpoint the core of their rejection. My Divine Sense literally got burned away due to the insanely high temperatures…”
“Even if this road can’t work,” Primul said. “That doesn’t mean your initial proposition is wrong. Perhaps there’s still a way to create Soul Items by choice.”
“—the difficulty is in studying them,” Lino said, frowning. “I mean, I guess Eggor and I can just start crafting items at random and hope we stumble upon a Soul Item once in a while, but that’s completely inefficient. I’d need to be able to consistently observe the blending of the materials at the smallest level, and what reaction exactly triggers the spontaneous genesis inside the item.”
“It’s impossible to work backward from the actual Soul Item?” Primul quizzed.
“Yeah,” Eggor nodded. “It’s oftentimes even difficult to determine which materials were used during the crafting, let alone their exact measures. Furthermore, materials are already blended together.”
"—it would be possible if we had a large number of Soul Items, though," Lino mused aloud, stroking his beard. "I mean, we could look for the common denominator among the items, right?"
“… well, yeah, I guess. But we’re most-likely talking hundreds of Soul Items all made from entirely different materials, with different arrays, and of different tiers. Chances are it’d take us about two eras to actually craft that many.”
“… aah, let’s move that to the last resort,” Lino said. “You still haven’t begun crafting Ally’s weapon, right?”
“No.” Eggor shook his head.
“We can start from there, then,” Lino said. “We’ll use the best materials we have in the warehouse, and I can give you the hand with some parts. Even if we don’t create a Soul Weapon, a chance to observe a variety of materials interacting at their core level should be somewhat illuminating. Any ideas on what weapon you’re gonna craft?”
“… hmm, Alex merely said it ought to be for a Body Cultivator,” Eggor tapped his fingers gently against his thigh. “Focused largely on speed and precision. Not many shapes really fit that.”
“… Ally’s quite lithe, so I’d go with a short sword,” Lino said. “Just craft the handle so it’s easy to be held in a backhand as well.”
“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing,” Eggor nodded. “Anyway, you should start preparing the materials while I draw up the drafts of designs.”
“We’re counting on you for arrays.” Lino glanced at the silent Primul.
"I've already begun selecting them," he laughed, slowly getting up and stretching. "How many?"
"Pull out however many you can that are at least Distinguished and above and are related to speed, acceleration, precision, penetration and are compatible with Space." Eggor replied. “We’ll optimize them later on.”
“Alright.” Primul nodded, walking over to the corner desk and sitting on a chair, slowly beginning to draw out arrays on the pieces of paper.
“We’ve less than a month till we surface,” Lino said. “If we use Vy’s anvil, do you think we could be done by then?”
“Hey!!” the Dragon cried out.
"Oh, shut it," Lino rolled his eyes. "Please, o' the Great Lord of Fire and Sky and treasures bounding everything, could your Lordship lend us, lowly cretins, the anvil?"
“—i-if you put it that way…”
“…” Eggor stared dubiously at the sighing and dispirited Lino and Vy who, even in this form, appeared strangely humbled. “It should be,” Eggor said. “But, if we’re doing it right, I won’t skimp on anything.”
“As you shouldn’t. Alright, I’ll go out and start amassing the materials and let the others know we’ll be gone for a while. I should also check up on Tim’s team and see how far along they’ve come.”
Lino quickly made his way through the fortress and into his chambers where Hannah was currently sifting through the stacks of paper while munching on still-steaming bread. She noticed him quickly, smiling for a moment and putting the papers away.
“Where have you been?” she asked.
“Trying to reinvent the world of crafting with Eggor and Primul.” Lino replied, walking over and kissing her forehead.
“The amazing part of being your wife,” Hannah mused. “Is that it’s entirely plausible that you are serious, but also that you are joking.”
“… quite serious this time around,” he chuckled, taking out a flagon of wine and downing half its contents under Hannah’s embittered gaze. “We’re trying to figure out how to craft Soul Items consistently.”
“… your idea, right?”
“… what makes you say that?”
“Because Primul and Eggor are sane and normal.”
“How long will you be gone?” she asked.
"Not long," Lino replied. "Everything we tried so far was kind of a bust, so instead we decided to focus on crafting Ally's weapon and experiment like that. We should probably be done by the time we're ready to shift back into reality, so about a month."
“Tsk, tsk, what kind of a husband you are, leaving your pregnant wife to fend for herself.”
“… right, for herself,” Lino rolled his eyes. “Nigh every soul in this fortress is at your beck and command, ready to do your bidding. They respect you more than me, for heaven’s sake.”
“That’s because I’m not insulting them and making fun of them all the time.”
“… uh, you do?”
“To their faces.”
“Oh… yeah, should probably work on that one.” he chuckled faintly, glancing out the window. “How are the predictions going, by the way?” he asked after a short silence.
“… ugh, don’t remind me,” Hannah groaned, suddenly beginning to rub her temples in agony. “Do you know how many variables there are to account for?”
“A-whole-fucking-lot!!” she exclaimed. “And every single change completely derails the string of events!! Do you know that just a single sentence separates Holy Grounds closing up completely instead of literally going all out and covering the entire world searching for us?! It’s fucking impossible!”
“Just go after the most-likely ones, and skip out on the minute details,” Lino said with a gentle expression. “Anyway, our response would at most change slightly regardless of the situation at large.”
“Yeah, but we still have a lot of people on the outside, Lino,” Hannah said. “Despite the fact that we’ve ordered them to completely close up and blend in the best they can, we can’t just leave them stranded on the off chance the Descent and the Grounds decided to use them as bait to lure us out.”
“And we won’t,” Lino said sternly. “Ella and I have already figured out a way to do it.”
“In a few days, you’ll meet some new peeps,” Lino smiled mysteriously, chuckling. “Courtesy of Ella’s… well, something. I still don’t know how she managed to pull them over to our side. I swear, that woman’s trying to out-mystery me. Me. The lord and creator of mysterious persona!”
“… yeaaah, you should probably know sweetie that you aren’t that mysterious…”
“Well, not to you,” Lino shrugged. “I tell you everything. But what about the rest, huh? Do they know just how fine of an ass your husband has? I don’t think so!”
“They do because you always, fucking always, brag about it!!” Hannah exclaimed somewhat angrily.
“Damn right they do!”
“… oh just get out. Get the fuck out and let me have a month of rest from… you. Just all of you.”
“Hi hi, I already know you’re going to miss me terribly.”
“I’m just wondering how you’ll endure a whole month without sex.”
“What do you me—oh shit.”
A land beyond the land stretched across the massive body of water, each island crescent, cut in such a way as though they along belonged to one, whole plot a long time ago before being carved out such intentionally. Black mist currently swirled across the sky and the far edges of the isles, the water gushing in-between starkly ashen and crimson, exuding a rather repugnant stench.
Each island appeared similar to the last, though the landscape varied considerably; from marshes, swamps, and flatlands, to high-rising mountains, cliffs, and even volcanic rings, everything could be found if one carefully looked. There were nine major islands, and roughly sixty-two minor ones scattered in-between and around, totaling in seventy-one.
On one of the islands, inside a ring of fire repeatedly spewed by the numerous volcanoes, sitting on top of the rivers of molten lava, was a Dragon spanning nearly ninety miles altogether while lying, scrounged up. Black scales were lit up by luminous blaze in-between them, nostrils repeatedly spitting out jets of fire and smoke, a pair of burning eyes like two suns glistening in the miasma of darkness.
Despite the overbearing appearance, however, the creature appeared limp and tepid, its breathing slow and shallow, its scales lacking a certain luster to them. Surrounding it were thousands of much smaller Dragons, most in even worse conditions, some having begun to turn into stone tails up.
Suddenly, the pair of blazing eyes shimmered, fire in them seemingly rekindled as they gazed past the darkness, past the mist, past the isles, and past the reality itself.
“… Vy?” a heavy, overcast voice spoke out. “Why is he… coming here? Ah! The Empyrean…” the blazing eyes fumed momentarily before dimming down. “Could he…?” a voice echoed into the darkness, though hardly hopeful. Perhaps he was growing too old, and seeing things. And perhaps… he was already dead, and simply dreaming.