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Finally away from the old monster’s grin I dash home for a quick change of clothes before heading to Harold’s Hard Knocks. My first day there, in simpler clothes, taught me that even though I haven’t started developing I need to wear a bra here. It’s hard to be modest in clothes that become transparent with sweat.

Thankfully Harold was kind enough to give me a towel to wrap around my top before it was obvious.

“Did you finish?” Harold barks.

“Yes master, I have finished.” I reply. It’s something I’m not used to, but as an apprentice I must call Harold master, which is a bit unnerving.

I asked Sir Orris about it and he said I’m not to call him master because I blazed through his coursework due to the nature of my gift. Further, there are things I can do he will never be able to.

I show Harold the homework which I’ve had to do by missing sleep. He wasn’t pleased yesterday when I hadn’t even started on the discs he asked me to engrave.

“Good work, I can trust you with this, then.” Harold says. He pulls a spoon out of the drawer and hands it to me. Along with it is a blueprint for cooling the contents of the spoon when ice essence is ran through it.

I work on the spoon for the next four hours. Twice I have to melt the filings down and fill in my mistakes. It’s not something Harold taught me, but I watched him do the same after run of curses erupted from his station.

I’m taking a little risk with this. The blueprint is not optimal, and he didn’t ask me to, but I’m trying to optimize the effect. If I’m right it’ll be five times as effective, or it’ll cause the contents of the spoon to explode outward, I’m not entirely sure.

“Anessa,” Harold calls, “Let’s take a break, Hana brought over some soup just now, it smells delightful.”

Hana is Harold’s wife. She’s the polar opposite of him in appearance. Long black hair, thin as a rail and only four foot ten tall.

“Sure, I’m famished,” I admit. This heat gets to me and even though the soup is likely hot, my stomach rumbles in agreement.

“I was watching you finish up just now, would you like to try it yourself?”

I shake my head, “I’m not at that step yet, I have no elemental affinities yet.”

Harold tosses me a rock that looks like an ice cube. It’s soothing to the touch in this heat, but not as cold as it looks. “Use that, it’s filled with ice affinity essence. When I need to use a specific element, I use rocks like that.”

“Cool,” I comment, “I mean that’s neat.” I take the bowl that Harold has dipped for me and sit down at his small table.

Harold joins me moments later.

I dip the spoon into the soup and pull it out, I draw some essence from the stone and send it into the spoon. The engraving takes over from there. I watch as the soup goes from steaming to condensing droplets of air onto the frozen surface of the liquid that was once in its place.

“Whoops,” I say, holding it for Harold to see.

“Hand me the stone for a moment,” Harold requests.

I hand it to him and he frowns, “What did you do to the engraving?”

“I tried to make it more efficient,” I admit.

“Too efficient, but you might be onto something. Just a moment.”

Harold steps away from our small table and takes the spoon with him. He starts to engrave a small circle into the tip of the handle.

I go over to watch him work.

Harold sets a small blue jewel in the small recess. He adds his own engraving around the jewel and connects it with my own. He flips the spoon around and engraves the back side and connects the front and back engravings.

Harold hands me the spoon and heats our bowls up again by placing them into the furnace for a brief moment. “Try now,” He says.

I try the spoon again and as I lift the spoon out of the bowl it cools on its own. “Awesome,” I say as I start to enjoy Hana’s cooking.

“Efficiency isn’t really my bag, but that small stone is a much more condensed version of the bigger stone. Larger charge, but the essence only trickles out.”

“How long should it last?” I ask.

“A few hundred years, give or take a few years.”

My jaw drops at his statement and I look at the spoon mostly interested in the reactive engraving on the bottom of the bowl. “Is this worth anything?”

“A few hundred gold, but most of the value is in the stone,” Harold says.

“Thanks for the lesson Master,” I say with a bow. Reactive engraving, that’s awesome. I study the engraving around the stone, I can only vaguely identify the on and off parts because there’s nothing like this in transcribing arts.

“You’re a scary kid,” Harold says.

“What?” I reply, a bit hurt by his statement.

“You’re ten years old, and on your second day you’re already improving on my blueprints,” Harold says, gesturing to the spoon. “Sure, the spoon is a test of sorts, but you made even me get excited about one of the simplest things I sell. Just now I saw you looking at it, already dissecting the part I did in your head.”

“I don’t have a lot of options in life,” I say.

Harold’s eyes widen and he puts his spoon down, “Is that what you’re telling yourself?”

I shake my head, “I mean, someone sealed my dantian,” I focus my hands around my navel, “so I’m far behind where I should be. I’ve had to learn a lot to build an alternative route.”

“When I first met you, I admit I scanned you. You gave me a feeling of someone in the Sky Realm, but you stumbled when picking up a short sword. That’s why I turned you down at first, something didn’t add up.”

“That’s from the seal, I found I can influence what’s inside but I can’t ever get anything out. So I’m going to try and break the seal myself. I’ve compressed the essence inside forty-five times, which gave you that feeling you mentioned.”

“Compressed?” Harold asks.

“Secret.” I deny, realizing I’ve probably said too much.

“Well, our break is over!” Harold shouts, picking up his hammer and walking back to the forge. “Come here, you may find some interest in this, though you’ll probably start with a smaller hammer.”

I walk over to the forge and the heat is much more intense. A few minutes in and I’m feeling a bit dizzy.

“Go drink some water, you’re not adapted to the forge yet,” Harold demands.

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Allen Clark Copeland, Jr.

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