As the Refinement Stage for the Forging Event began, a loud buzzing noise shook the tournament arena. Simultaneously, over a thousand participants began lighting their furnaces to begin their refinement processes. Yet in the group of competitors there stood out one white-haired crimson-eyed lass who stood static. Whereas most of the competitors in this stage wished to capitalize on all the time available to them, Elizabeth was in evident disappointment.
'Ten minutes? They actually gave us ten minutes to refine metal of this quality?' Shaking her head as her thoughts conveyed deep disbelief, Elizabeth nonchalantly began preparing her furnace without the slightest sign of haste in her actions. If she wanted to, she could have begun refining immediately, but to mask her surveillance, she feigned the need for her furnace to come to temperature.
This being the first time she could watch other smiths operate, she took the chance to see how she compared to the practitioners on Earth. Alas, though there were a couple people she thought had potential as smiths, most of the competitors around her couldn't even be called novices by her books. Granted, she had ridiculous standards as her path of perfection didn't end when it came to cultivation.
Looking on at all the different refinement styles of these smiths, Elizabeth sighed as once again her inferiority in terms of technique was highlighted. With nothing but the basics and her forging principles mastered to the Master Rank, she could thoroughly shame virtually all the other competitors. Yet, she possessed no secret forging techniques to speed up her forging process or give her craftsmanship any underlying benefits.
After taking in the sight of the hundreds of different styles of refinement the smiths around her had to offer, Elizabeth adopted a slightly smug smile as her vibrant orange flames finally "came to temperature." She took the inert spiritual iron ore and chucked it into the fire before using a combination of Fire and Neutral Magic to vaporize any impurities as well as mold the purified metal into an ingot.
Since they had given her only a small piece of ore, the final product resulted in an ingot weighing about 5 kg. To Elizabeth, who had enough energy in her reserves to refine well over a couple hundred kilograms in a single sitting, such light work didn't even cause her to break a sweat. She also finished absurdly fast, with well over five minutes remaining before the Stage finished.
With nothing else to do, Elizabeth sunk into a quick minute-long meditation and instantly recovered all the Inner Strength she'd spent to refined the iron ingot. She still had a couple minutes left to idle, so to appease her boredom, she began practicing her inscriptionist technique.
Back on board the yacht, she had earned herself an Inscriptionist technique called "Multipass," which would let her interlace multiple types of energies in one stroke of her inscriptionist pen, as well as Pass Stone for Neutral energy which would work like her affinity stones. She had long since integrated with Neutral Path Stone to use Neutral Magic along within any other Magical energy at the same time. But after completing the Transillusionary Return Enchantment, she hadn't picked up her inscriptionist pen since then.
It wouldn't provide her with major benefits to practice in the couple minutes she had until the Refinement Stage concluded. But, with her mindset, any practice was better than none. Alas, her actions of practicing inscriptions in the middle of a test for Refinement earned her a terrible first impression with the various elders and judges watching from the VIP spectator panel.
The most irritated of all the elders couldn't help but speak on the matter after watching Elizabeth completely ignore the ore, which she was supposed to be refining, for over two minutes. He called for an attendant and asked, "You, I want you to bring me all the information we have on that girl. The one seated in block #1103." A faint light of disgust gleamed across his stark black eyes as the frown on his face deepened.
After the attendant excused himself to bring the elder the information he requested, the elder turned to the others that overlooked the competition and commented, "Surely I can't be the only one displeased by this blatant mockery of our event, right?"
Another different elder, one that appeared much less stressed out, responded, "Who knows? Maybe she already finished with her refinement. Or maybe she's done all that she can to refine that level of iron ore." Though they were relatively close to the competitor's arena, the elders were still much too far away to properly gauge the refinement rate of the competitor's work. This effect impacting Elizabeth all the more when one took into account that the VIP spectator panel was situated under the giant TV screen in the north side of the tournament arena.
"Mhmm… I wouldn't be too sure about that..." Yet another elder interjected. After successfully gathering the attention of most of the other's in the room, he continued saying, "I noticed her right after the competition began, and I assume many of you were also attracted to watching her as she was the only who didn't start right away..."
A fourth elder said, "I too noticed she didn't start right away, but when she did… she barely did anything to the ore aside from pass it into her furnace." He too was rather displeased, as he couldn't understand why someone without the appropriate smithing "skills," would want to enter the forging event and ruin the name of their faction. After all, the results of each Stage would be announced to the public through the TV screen with detailed analysis of their performance during the stage. It wouldn't be a problem if Elizabeth failed after trying her absolute best and at least managed to produce a subpar product. So much as it would if the public got word that she thoroughly wasted her time on the arena and produced utter garbage.
The first elder agreed, saying, "In total, she spent less than three minutes and not once did she even touch an instrument of refinement to at least pretend that she knew what she was doing..." The more he thought about it, the worst the image Elizabeth inspired in his mind became.
Then, a woman's voice entered the fray, to say, "Say, haven't you all seen the state of her metal after it came out of the fire?"
"Lady Keter… We can't tell anything from looking at this far away. Even if we are all Spirit Realm practitioners, we still need to directly come into contact with artifacts or working materials to properly analyze them." Watching his words, one of the elders from before carefully responded as he felt nothing but fear from confronting the woman before him. As the woman looked on to see how the other elders would respond, she saw all of them nodded their heads nervously as if to agree with the man's words.
The woman who had raised the question from before, a woman with ridiculous power — both in the political and literal sense — within the Martial Society, was known as Lady Keter, who never gave out her first name. Yet even though her strength was fearsome, what really inspired the fear and respect in the elders within the VIP panel was her husband… Lady Keter was strong enough to solidify her standing as a grand elder in the Martial Society and overturn large decisions that would impact the political climate of the world. But, Sir Keter? He alone could change the world by himself… if not from his own even more ridiculous power, than through his wide interconnected net of close and personal associates who each had power just below his.
Listening to their response, Lady Keter responded in confusion, saying, "Huh? I don't know much about smithing, but it looks to me like her piece of metal is in the best condition out of all the other competitors in the arena. I mean, look… It even has the shape of an ingot and everything…"
In this tricky situation, the elders couldn't help but get serious, lest they give out some wrong information and potentially annoy Lady Keter. Before, they hadn't felt the need to stress their abilities to seriously consider what was sure to be a flop. But after Lady Keter mentioned the state of Elizabeth's ingot, all the judging elders galvanized their Qi and infused it into their eyes to take a better look. They still couldn't conduct a proper detailed inspection, but the general appearance of Elizabeth's iron ingot became several times clearer.
As the elder's seriously analyzed as best they could, several of them couldn't help but start to sweat as they found Lady Keter's words to be true. At least from the outside looking in, it did, in fact, look like Elizabeth's piece of ore had been refined into a perfect ingot of refined iron.
The black-eyed elder who had prompted the conversation looked like he had eaten feces from how downcast his expression became in the wake of their discovery. However, so as to not completely lose face, he decided to gracefully take the loss whilst also sucking up the Lady Keter. He said, "Lady Keter, you have a good eye! I should have taken a closer look before making any assumptions… That lass might be a talent after all..." The rest of the elders also apologized for their carelessness, even though it was probable that Lady Keter wouldn't have cared about their comments.
After a couple more minutes passed, with a loud buzzing sound signaling everyone to stop and turn in their work, everyone in the VIP spectator panel looked on expectantly to see how that mysterious girl measured up to the rest of the competition.