“Morning master!” I call out to the prone form of Del. He’s already laying on his favorite bench as I enter his clearing.
He opens his eyes and looks surprised to see me.
“What’s with that look? Not happy to see me?” I send a challenging look down at master.
“Yeah, I’m actually pretty surprised to see you. I figured your mother would’ve tortured you for at least three days before I saw you again.” A series of flashbacks from last night cause the blood to drain from my face.
Swallowing hard, I try to send a challenging look back at master who now looks worried for me. “I’m an adult now. We had a civil discussion and that was it.” I try to project some confidence.
“That’s how it happened?” Master doesn’t look convinced.
I move over to another bench and sigh, planting my butt against the hard stone. “I wish. Everyone was crying. At one point we argued, doors were slammed. More crying after that, this time mostly me. Hugging, then more yelling when I told them the three of us have to patrol the forest monthly. Another argument followed by deep conversation that lasted hours into the night. In short mother and father were mad I stayed behind but happier that I came back ok.” I stare up at some clouds floating above us.
“Sounds like you have a great family,”
“I do, don’t I.” I’m incredibly blessed to be alive and to be surrounded by so many people who love me.
“I still expected you to be locked in your room for at least a day.”
“Despite all the initial arguing, we all sat down together and I explained to them how only the three of us could face the chameleon spiders without sacrificing half the village. They were reluctant to acknowledge the need for my participation but eventually they relented. I think they realized how dangerous the forest would become if I didn’t help.”
“That’s probably true.” Master rubs his nose. “It’s great you could come to an understanding with your parents, all the more reason I’m confused you’re not spending the day with them?”
I rise from the bench and stand beside master. “I need to do more.” He must see the fire in my eyes because he sits up and properly faces me. “Our village was vastly unprepared for the goblin threat. Farmers charged the goblins wielding nothing but farming tools. I can’t let that happen again! I still plan to sell most of my goods to Kervin but I plan on forging enough spears to arm most of the villagers in case of a disaster. I also want your help to make a better bow for Ronald. He needs something better to defend himself with, when we hunt the spiders again next month. And the most important thing I need to do is level more!”
Master doesn’t look surprised from my speech. “All grand goals. I suppose as your master I should help my student. I’ll have to take my naps on the days you spend time with your family. Do you have a plan for today?”
I smile at Master Del as he rises from his bench. He stretches his massive arms across his chest. “Today I want to get all the materials ready for a forging marathon tomorrow. We have all the bloomery metal ready from before we left on the expedition, so I figured we would get the basic steel ready quick enough and have time to try messing with some of the magic metals.” I look at the pile of the spider’s exoskeleton. “You told me magic beast parts can be combined with some metals to create semi-magical alloys, right?”
“I said ‘Some’ parts can be used. The exoskeleton might be a good material to work with or it could become worthless when subjected to the forge’s heat. And remember we can’t waste all the materials, you promised Ronald you would sell the materials to Kervin and give him his cut of the profits later.”
“I will give him a fair share of the profits… in the form of a new bow and better arrows.” I slyly smile at master. I think I’ve properly understood Ronald’s character after our time in the forest. He would rather have a better bow than some coins weighing down his pockets.
“If you want to take that chance, I won’t stop you but you need to remember as a craftsman you need to always keep the customers perspective in mind.”
“Good. Start the smelter, we have a lot of work to do.”
“Yes master!” I love it when master gets fired up! Time to make some quality steel.
Standing in front of the smelter, I can feel the heat through my Mana Skin skill. When I first started my apprenticeship under master, he only used his forge to make small amounts of steel when he needed it. Only a year into my apprenticeship it quickly became apparent we needed a better way to smelt the amount of steel that I was using for my practices’.
Our smelter is similar to the bloomery in design but big enough to hold a much larger crucible. Through a lot of work, we even managed to fit a valve on the bottom of the smelter where we can pour the molten steel into billets. Each mold is 4’’ wide by 4’’ tall and 12’’long, making 55-pound bars of steel. Our smelter makes eight bars when we pack it to the brim. That’s 440 pounds of steel. I can usually stretch that much material out into enough to work with for two or sometimes three months. This time I plan to use it all before Kervin returns. He doesn’t have an exact schedule he follows but I’m guessing he’ll be back anywhere between twelve and sixteen days from now.
“Is the forge ready yet, master?” I call over my shoulder.
“Almost there!” I hear master shout over the roaring flames.
I add some more ‘Blacksmith’s’ logs into the smelter, double-checking to make sure the flames will remain strong while master and I experiment with some new materials on the forge.
Positive the smelter will be going strong by itself; I join master by the forge.
“It’s ready. Go on and grab a chunk of the spider carapace.” Nodding my head to master, I go and grab a medium size chunk of the carapace. The thin and long piece of carapace is maybe two and a half feet long.
I rush back to master’s side in my excitement. “What do we do first!” I excitedly ask him.
“When you’re dealing with new materials, especially magic beast materials, you need to take it slow. First we need to see how it reacts to high temperatures.” Using a pair of short tongs, master grabs the piece of carapace and moves part of it into the fire.
We both stare at the flames, waiting for something to happen.
After twenty seconds of heat treatment the carapace starts to change. Small sparks start appearing across the exoskeleton which quickly set the material ablaze. The fire radiating off of the carapace isn’t as hot as our forge but startling none the less.
“That’s what I thought would happen. You see what’s happening to the material? Magic beast parts that are attuned to the wind element give off wind mana which spurs the growth of fire. We could use the carapace in the fire itself but the flames that it’s giving off are nothing special.”
Using my mana sense, I can see the mana contained in the carapace popping out of the material and spurring the growth of the flames in its surroundings. However not all the mana is being expelled from the material. A small amount of wind mana is staying trapped in the material.
Master pulls the carapace out of the forge and it looks like flaming dough. The material is stretching off to its sides. After being removed from the forge for two minutes the yellow flame dies out by itself.
I focus my Mana Skin barrier around my hands and try to grab a chunk of the still stretching material.
“Careful!” Master warns me.
The barrier around my hands keeps me from feeling the texture of the material but I can feel the heat as it disperses into the surrounding air. I try to rip a small chunk of the material off but it only stretches further each time I pull it.
As the material cools in my hands it becomes less malleable with each passing second.
Master watches as I try to sculpt the material into a staircase type of mold. I want areas with different thicknesses so I can test the material better. With the heat evaporating fast, I slowly lower my Mana Skin barrier. I completely remove the barrier on my index finger and run it across the surface of the brick.
A gentle warmth radiates out of the material. The former carapace was lumpy and rough but after almost liquifying the material is smooth to the touch now.
Taking the new material over to the anvil, I try tapping the thickest part of the brick with my hammer. The material produces a ringing noise when struck but doesn’t crack upon the first strike. I start increasing the force of my swings. With all my experience I’ve become able to judge how much strength I put into each of my swings.
It isn’t until I use about 95 Strength that the material dents under my hammer strikes. At 100 Strength the dent I leave has fractures radiating out the center of my strike. A strike again, this time using 105 Strength on the thickest part of the material which causes it to shatter.
The thicker parts of the spider’s carapace were able to withstand a strike from master with his enchanted pickaxe. The material has obviously lost a great deal of its resistance if I can shatter it with this amount of Strength.
“It’s an interesting material but I don’t think you would want to use it in any of your projects.” I examine one of the shattered chunks while I listen to Del’s advice.
“What if we mix it with some steel?” I throw the question out.
“We still have enough bloomery steel that we couldn’t fit into the smelter. I guess we could try to mix it in the smaller crucible on the forge.” That’s all the motivation I need to dash off and gather the materials.
When I return to Del’s side I start assembling the crucible. A chunk of bloomery steel goes in the bottom. “Master, do you think I should put a piece of the carapace we already heat treated or a chunk of the fresh carapace?”
“We’ll have to try both. When your experimenting with new materials you have to be ready to try multiple combinations. We’ll start by adding a chunk of the stuff you shattered.”
I find a sliver of the shattered carapace and place it in the crucible. I put some shattered glass on top of our new mixture and move to put a few leaves inside.
“Put some extra leaves this time.” I look confusingly over to master.
“Why?” I ask him.
“The carapace has to have its own carbon. Even if the mixture works, the steel alloy it makes will have too much carbon and be weaker than what we normally use.”
I never thought about that. I add some extra leaves and seal the crucible. I place it on the forge and move to check on the smelter. I’ll have to watch two flames now but that should keep me busy while we wait for new metal to liquify.
An hour of controlling two fires passes by rather quick.
“You think it’s ready?” I question master.
“Who knows? We’re working with new materials your guess is as good as mine.” I can tell he’s trying not to get my hopes up but I can see the excitement hidden in his eyes. Trying something new is always fun.
We place the crucible off to the side and start prepping our second one. This time I put a piece of the carapace we didn’t melt yet alongside the bloomery steel. With some leaves and glass, I seal the crucible and place attempt number two in the forge.
With the new crucible heating up we turn our attention to our slightly cooler first attempt. Using tongs and my Mana Skin skill, I try not to burn myself. When the lid is removed, we realize we need to wait a few more minutes because the small layer of glass on top is still a little runny.
I turn to check on the heating crucible... “Wow!”
Master Del follows the direction I’m looking at and he’s astonished as well. The crucible we’ve only had on the forge for a few minutes is glowing red. The crucible is supposed to trap the heat inside allowing the metal to liquify but it shouldn’t heat up that fast. It must be the chunk of carapace we put inside.
“I think the carapace is acting as a fire inside the crucible.” I tell Del my hypothesis.
“You’re probably right. The flames that ingulfed the first piece of carapace we tested weren’t that hot but being confined in the crucible must be raising the temperature inside exponentially quicker.
If it bonds with the steel, adding it into our smelter could really cut back on the time we need to leave it running.
“It’s ready.” I turn back around in time to watch Del strike the glass in the crucible.
Master pulls the chunks of glass out before he grabs a pair of tongs.
“How did it turn out?” I try to stand over his shoulder watching him trying to grab the chunk of metal. Del quickly manages to get ahold of the metal with the tongs and pulls it out for both of us to see.
“Pity.” Master spoils the reveal. Once the chunk of metal is in the sunlight, I can see why he’s disappointed.
The small puck of metal he pulls out of the crucible has distinct off-color grey lines running throughout the metal. The metal didn’t bond with melted carapace. The metal might look cool with the different shades of grey but those lines are structural weak points in the metal. If the melted carapace was concentrated in the top or bottom of the metal, we could try to salvage the steel but it’s impossible with it like it is.
“Well that sucks.” Master nods to my statement.
Del touches the puck with his finger before he offers it to me.
“It’s cool enough you can hold it with your Mana Skin.” He places the puck in my hands.
I hold it up to the light and marvel at the smooth sides and lines branching throughout the steel. “I’ll add it to my collection. It will be a good reminder that not everything works out perfectly when you want it to.”
“And here I thought I was going to have to console you. I’m happy you’re not letting this failure bother you but we still have one more to check.”
“Let’s hope it’s better than this one.” I say in a dry tone.
I keep flipping the puck of metal in my hands. I can see the mana unevenly spread throughout the chunk of steal. Using Inject Mana I pump some of my mana inside the puck. The insides light up like a spineless Christmas tree. The melted carapace is a better conductor for my magic than the chunk of steel. I’ll have to test other materials but maybe I can use it as an enchanting ingredient?
While we wait for the second crucible to finish, I make sure the smelter is staying hot enough to properly melt the steel.
We aren’t sure how long we should leave the crucible on the forge, so we wait for an hour before we remove it.
The crucible is much hotter this time so master has the honor of cracking the lid.
“The glass is still molten.” I lean over and see the glass still in its liquid form.
We leave the crucible to the side and wait for the glass to cool.
So, we wait…
“Master, is it supposed to take this long?” I swing my legs as I sit on one of the benches.
“It shouldn’t.” he looks down into the crucible again. “The glass is cooling slightly but a part of it is still molten.”
“You think mana quenching it would help?”
“You can try. Rapidly cooling the metal will also be a good indicator if it bonded well enough.”
“All right, step aside old man. Let me show you how it’s done.” Master moves away from the crucible while rolling his eyes at me.
I strengthen the barrier around my hands and pick up the crucible. I can tell the insides of the crucible are still really hot despite us letting it sit for almost forty minutes. The trick with mana quenching is to use my mana to disperse the heat trapped within an object.
It’s more difficult this time because I have to go through the crucible first. Luckily, the crucible is not only good at absorbing heat but also expelling it. It only takes me half a minute to defuse most of the heat from the crucible. What’s weird is I can see more fire mana filling the cleared space I made in the crucible. If I keep emptying the heat from the crucible that must mean the insides are cooling too.
After another minute I have to reassess the situation.
“Having trouble?” Master looks confused when he sees me struggling. He’s watched me mana quench hundreds of items, most of which only require a few seconds for me to do it properly.
“I think I almost have it.” I grumble between my teeth. The heat is finally subsiding after I wasted nearly 200 mana on cooling it.
I set the crucible down and grab a hammer to break the glass. One good swing shatters the protective barrier. I still have my hands guarded so I reach in and pull the puck out.
Both master’s and my eyes go wide when we see the silvery puck in my hands. Unlike the other one, which has lines running through it, the metal looks uniformly of one color. The steel is a lighter shade of silver than usual. I’d say it looks like a mix of aluminum and steel.
Surprisingly I still feel a faint heat radiating from the puck. Is it generating that heat? “Master, feel this.” I reduce the barrier covering my hands so I can better feel the metal with master.
“It’s radiating its own heat.” Master confirms my suspicions.
“What do you think would happen if I put it back in the fire?” Master and I share a smile.
Using some tongs, I place the puck back on the forge. I wait for the metal to turn red before I pull it out. I place the puck on a ledge next to the forge. We both stare at the glowing metal.
Unlike a usual chunk of steel, this puck stays hot for nearly four times as long after it’s removed from the forge. This could be useful, let’s see how malleable it is.
I heat the puck back up before I take it over to the anvil. I smile after the first hammer strike. The metal moves just like steel. I know what I can use this for.
“Master, is there any more chunks of steel left over?” Master looks up from my work and ponders my question.
“I think there’s a little left. What are you making?” His eyes drift back to me hammering the metal.
“I’m going to make the best pan my mother’s ever seen.” I boldly claim.
“Ahh, you need a handle.” Del quickly realizes what I want the regular steel for.
I could stretch the metal enough to make a handle and a small pan out of the material but the metal absorbs heat too much. I’ll use the ‘Heating Steel’, that’s a good name for it, as the base and sides of the pan and use a regular piece of steel for the handle. I can use it to cook tonight and offer it as a peace offering to mother.
The metal is easy to work with because it retains the forge heat for so long. I can shape it much easier than any metal I’ve worked with before.
I look up to see master approaching with a small chunk of steel in hand. He passes by me and places the steel in the forge, we don’t even need to communicate.
The puck of ‘Heating Steel’ is quickly flattened to my designed thickness and I move on to curling the sides up. Making something like this requires you to have a sense of symmetry. A giant press can make a pan in a second but doing it by hand is an artform.
Luckily, I’ve made plenty of pans over the last few years. I manage to get the bulk of the pan finished before it cools too much. I place the base of the pan off to the side and step next to master. The steel for the handle is just about ready for me to work with.
Using some tongs, I shift the hot metal over to the anvil and start flattening it out. The regular steel doesn’t hold its heat as well, so I have to reheat it a few times to get it into an even flat rectangle.
After I heat it again, I use the side of the anvil to curve the metal. After some precise swings I successfully curve and weld the steel into a workable handle.
I now have the base and the handle ready, so I heat them both up together for the last time. When they’re both glowing, I remove them and fit my handle up against the pan base. Using one of the precision hammers to weld the two pieces together.
I double check the seam for any imperfections before I mana quench the handle. Injecting my mana into the steel, I can search for any imperfections in my welding. The handle has a few micro fractures but nothing serious for a pan. My mana moves from the handle and jumbles up at the welding point. Connecting two different metals into a matching mana flow has only happened twice over the hundreds of items I forged. I’m not surprised this one isn’t perfect.
It’s harder but I can still direct my mana into the base of the pan. The base is still retaining some heat after welding the pieces together and once my mana enters it the metal actually heats up a little more. If the effect was stronger, I might have been able to cook by just injecting mana into the pan. The melted carapace works as a magic insulator that multiplies heat retention.
A crazy idea pops into my head.
I almost drop my hammer in my excitement. Moving my finished pan and tools, I take off to the shed I store my workable minerals in. My collection of rocks is divided into two parts. The smaller samples I keep at home, much to mother’s displeasure. But the larger samples I get from Kervin are kept here in case I want to try forging with them.
My most recent purchase is what grabs my attention. The two chunks of fire iron are sitting on a metal plate. Eyeballing the two samples I grab the biggest one. Before I close the shed, I grab the bucket that has the remains of crushed gem snail shells inside. With these two things I might be able to make a magic sword!
With my arms full, I make my way back to master.
“What do you have there” He inspects the materials in my arms.
“Hear me out, master. The fresh spider carapace fused with the steel and made it better retain heat. What would happen if we mixed the carapace with some fire iron?” I feel like a mad scientist right now.
“That…. could work? Are you willing to bet most of your fire iron to try it out though?” He levels a serious look at me.
His look makes me nervous but the image of a magic katana keeps appearing in my head and cutting any ideas of playing it safe to shreds.
“I’ll take that chance! Let’s get it going in a crucible.”
“And the gem snail dust, what are you using that for?” I can understand his wariness. It takes a ridiculous amount of time to harvest enough snail shells to properly fuse it with a metal.
“I need something that can take the heat of the fire iron while working as a sturdy core.”
“You know infusing gem snail dust into steel may make it more durable but it also softens it slightly. You want something like that?”
I can’t help but widely smile at Del’s uncertain face. “That’s exactly what I want.”
“Alright. But let’s try your fire iron first. If it doesn’t work out at least we won’t waste the gem snail dust.” I try not to let his skepticism bring me down.
I move over to the rock crusher and make sure there’s no dust that will accidentally mix with the ore. I use some water to clean it out before I place my fire iron chunk inside. As I crush the rocks, I can feel a small amount of heat wafting up from the pummeled ore.
I carefully move the shattered ore into a clean bucket and walk back to Del. I hope this is enough for what I need.
I carefully pour all the bits of fire iron into the crucible and wipe any remaining dust out of the bucket with my hands. “How much carapace should I put in the crucible?” I ask Master Del.
“I’ve worked with fire iron twice before. Like most magic metals it doesn’t usually contain many impurities. That said I’ve never tried combining it into an alloy before. I’d say use the same amount as last time but add a few more leaves, the carbon in the ore might be a little higher than our bloomery steel.” Master seems to ponder over every piece of advice.
“Let me seal this one.” He picks up the crucible. “I need you to grab a large pile of ‘Blaksmith’s’ logs. Fire iron takes a lot of heat to melt properly.”
I move over to the wood shed where we keep the good logs and start moving them over to the forge. I throw a few small ones on the fire to get it going. It takes a few trips to gather enough wood but I finish in time to watch master bring the sealed crucible over. He carefully moves it into the raging inferno that I have going.
I move to check our smelter again, if I ruin this batch of steel master would never let me live it down.
When I rejoin master, I need to increase my Mana Skin barrier. The heat radiating out of the forge is incredible. We usually use one or two ‘Blacksmith’s’ logs to create a hot zone in the forge in case we need to rapidly heat up part of the metal. This time the forge is filled with the special logs, pushing the flames to well over 2000°c. This world continues to amaze me, wood from a tree is able to reach such incredible temperatures.
“Would you look at that.” Del looks mystified at the fire.
I have to scooch closer to master before I can see what’s leaving the man gobsmacked. The flames of the forge are being repelled from the crucible, the air surrounding it is warping from the heat radiating out of the sealed container.
I check the crucible with Sense Mana and see a whirling nebula of fire mana inside.
We leave the crucible in the forge for an hour and a half, watching the waves of heat radiating off of it, before we move it off to the side. I check the mana inside the crucible after it has sat for about 30 minutes, only to find the mana has only settled by ten percent.
I tell Del the state of the mana and watch as he rubs his chin. “If that’s the case we’ll have to wait until tomorrow before we open it. If it looks good tomorrow, we can forge some gem snail steel first thing in the morning and that should leave you enough time to make your sword.” I’m practically shaking with excitement.
Master looks up at the sky then over to the smelter. “Let’s pour the smelter and make our way towards the village. We still need to attend the village meeting.”
“Sounds good,” I say. We split up to gather the materials.
Master moves to grab two pairs of thick gloves that cover our whole arms while I grab the molds we use for the billets. The steel is around 1500°c coming out of the smelter and no matter how strong my Mana Skin skill is or master’s skills are, our flesh would melt if we splashed any of the molten steel on us.
The gloves were actually the first things I ordered from Kervin. They’re hide from a semi-magical beat that boasts a decent fire resistance, then the gloves were treated with an alchemical solution. With that in mind, the gloves will only withstand molten steel for seven seconds. That’s enough time for us to retreat and remove the gloves before parts of us start to melt.
I line up the molds in a single file line directly under the tapping valve. It took us a while to get the molds right but now the molten steel fills the first mold and overflows to the next and will continue that cycle until the last one is filled. A quarter of an inch of steel will cover all the molds that we’ll have to cut through after they cool partially.
“Ready?!” Master shouts at me even though we’re feet apart.
“Ready!” I shout back. Clear responses are critical when dealing with molten metal.
“Pouring!” Master shouts and releases the valve.
The tapping hole is tiny but the force of the liquid metal still pushes it out at a decent speed. The red ooze travels into the molds and slowly fills them up.
Molten steel is hotter than lava. It’s such a beautiful moment when you watch it pour. Gods, I love my job.