Side by side, Master Del and I make our way towards the village headman’s house. I have a sense of déjà vu while we make our way over to the village meeting.
If anything, this walk is even more nerve-wracking a second time. We weren’t aware of the dangers we would be facing back then. Now the whole village needs to be warned about the dangers we encountered.
I wish we could skip through time, so we could move directly into our forging tomorrow but I doubt even magic could accomplish such a feat.
The walk is just as quiet as last time. As we approach the crowd outside Camden’s house, I swear it looks the same. Maybe not.
Last time no one knew why we were summoned. The hushed whispers amongst the crowed paint a more ominous picture this time. A few families holding clay jars are being surrounded by groups of people offering their condolences.
I notice Ronald positioned by the headman’s front door. More than one set of eyes are staring deeply at him. I’m glad I’m not up there.
Ronald’s gaze is steady, giving no indication to the outcome of our search.
“Mister Del-Razen and Miss Aaliyah, I’m happy you could join us.” The both of us turn to our left taking notice of Nicolas steadily approaching us. We were staying out of the way near the back of the crowd, how did he find us so quickly?
I take a look around us and realize I was placing all my attention on Ronald. While most people are keeping an eye on Ronald but the villagers closest to us are sending questioning glares our way as well.
“My father is still preparing inside our home but he should be finished soon. If you’ll follow me please.” Nicolas gestures with his hand towards Ronald’s position.
Crap, he wants us up front for this. “Are you sure that’s necessary? We’re comfy here.” I try to express my discomfort at the idea of being displayed in front of the whole village.
Nicolas looks troubled by my suggestion. “I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
“Why do we need to be…?” Master cuts me off with a gentle elbow to my side.
Using the moment to his advantage, Nicolas takes a small step forward. “I’m sorry for the inconvenience but I have to insist. The village needs to see the three of you together.” His caring but firm tone doesn’t leave me any room to negotiate.
I turn my head away from him, only to see a number of villagers moving to get a better look of Master Del and me. No one is shoving or arguing but everyone close to us is trying to get a good view of us.
I feel master’s hand on my shoulder. I look back to see master nodding his head to Nicolas. Silently, we follow him as the crowd parts for our passing.
I think I might be sick.
The emotions plastered across the crowd’s faces are hard to look at. I try to focus on my feet but something inside me is telling me it’s wrong to look down right now. I take a deep breath before I raise my head and focus on the back of Nicolas’s head. I’m still assaulted by the faces in my peripheral vision.
The closer we get to the front of the headman’s house the more my shoes feel like they’re made of lead.
I might as well be scaling a mountain as we ascend the steps in front of us.
We reach the top and now comes the hard part. I see master turning around after he takes his place next to Ronald. Everything moves in slow motion as I turn to face the crowd. The steps in front of the headman’s house are only three feet at their highest point but I feel like I’m up on a pedestal for all to see.
Looking down at the crowd I feel naked in their gazes. Everyone has looks like they have a question their dying to scream out. I barely notice Nicolas slip open his front door and disappear inside. Surely, they don’t want us to address the crowd, right? Ronald and Del would never talk to this many people so does that mean I have to explain everything!?
As my legs start to shake at the horrifying idea, Nicolas exits his house followed by his father.
I’m able to stop my panic attack before Nicolas takes his place next to me. Camden stays in front of their door, taking center stage. As he looks over the crowd the whispers vanish.
“I’m sorry.” Camden’s words paralyze everyone.
“I’m sorry for the loss of our neighbors, our friends, and our family.” Many hang their heads hearing Camden’s words.
“We… I underestimated the goblins. This horde was unlike anything I could have prepared for. If it wasn’t for the brave sacrifices from the fallen, none of us would have returned from the expedition. They died protecting our homes and our very lives. We shall have a moment of silence to honor their sacrifices.” Camden bows his head and everyone follows his example.
In the silence the cries of those who’ve lost people are heard by all. It’s hard not to tear up.
The silence stretches for five minutes before Camden raises his head again. “I wish I could tell you the danger has passed.” Many people jump at the headman’s reveal.
“I’m sure you’ve all heard about the three who volunteered to stay behind and search the forest for anymore dangers.” Camden looks at the three of us and the whole village follows his example. My body erupts in goosebumps.
“Ronald and Del-Razen who faced a goblin believed to be stronger than level 60. And the young heroine Aaliyah, who faced a newly formed horned hob single handily. Each volunteered to stay behind after their exhausting battle.” I blush at the praise. I know I never wanted to stand out but I knew when I volunteered for the expedition that there was a good chance people would recognize my strength.
“I wish I can tell you they cleared up some stray goblins they found and returned victorious. Sadly, they found the beasts that were hunting the goblins, the reason they left the deeper parts of the forest. Giant magic beasts were found hidden amongst the trees.” The headman is trying to look strong in front of everyone but it’s not working.
The silence breaks as people start discussing the horrible truth to each other. I’m happy that everyone isn’t staring up at us anymore but watching everyone panic isn’t how in wanted it to happen.
“How strong are the magic beasts!?”
“Are they going to attack the village!?”
“Did we even have to attack the goblins!?”
People quickly turn their questions and rage back to Camden.
I expected him to activate his skill he used last time to silence everyone but instead he stands there waiting. People continue to scream at him and he just stands there taking it.
Ever so slowly the voices quiet on their own as people realize he’s waiting for silence.
“I know you all have questions and I know you’re all scared, so am I. I was briefed on the peculiarities of the beasts by our three heroes.” I flinch again at being called a hero.
“The magic beasts are huge spiders that use their magic to blend into the trees. They appear to be staying closer to magic dense parts of the forest but we’re not sure if they’ll branch out and look for food now that the goblins are gone.”
“How do we spot them!?” One of the hunters shouts out.
“I was told that Ronald could barely spot the difference in the trees. They were lucky to find the first one, all the others they found were extremely difficult to see. The only sign you could look for is a tree that doesn’t have any branches.” He changed the story to hide my magic abilities.
“How strong are they!?” Another hunter questions Camden.
“Master Del-Razen was only barely able to wound the beats with a magic pickaxe. The magic beasts are believed to be around level 80, maybe higher.” Everyone pales at the revelation.
“Before everyone panics, I want to remind you they’re staying deep in the forest for now. Ronald, Aaliyah, and Del-Razen have volunteered again to check the forest each month. That said, everyone who enters the forest must have a partner accompany them. We need to stay safe until the lords promised troops arrive in spring. We need to remain vigilant and pray the beasts move back into the deeper parts of the forest.” Most of the villagers nod their heads in agreement but the hunters look unconvinced of the danger. Hopefully they never run into a chameleon spider while hunting.
“Lastly, for those of you who’ve lost somebody, I’ve already commissioned a group memory stone from Salus in memory of everyone we lost. If you want a personal one made, I’ve already told Salus that I’ll be covering the cost of them all.” Burial customs in this world are pretty simple. Usually the body of a loved one is cremated after they pass on and their ashes are either kept by the family or spread somewhere significant to the departed. A memory stone is like a smaller type of tombstone that a family places around their home in honor of their fallen loved ones.
“I’ll be visiting each of the families who’ve lost someone over the next few days. If anyone needs clarification on something or has another question you can stay and see me.” I was waiting for him to say dismissed or something but only an awkward silence blows through the crowd. A few groups along the edges of the crowd silently break away first.
Of course, standing up front I can’t just run off. I’m essentially stuck up here with the others until the crowd thins out. A few people walk up to us and start asking Camden their questions.
I ignore the conversations and try to pick out mom or dad in the crowd. There they are, standing off to the side waiting for the crowd to disperse.
It takes twenty minutes for most of the villagers to leave but a small group of people are still boxing us in. People are still trying to get Camden to answer their questions.
Father must have run out of patience because his large figure starts steadily making its way through the remaining people towards our position. People quickly notice him moving through the crowd and he easily makes his way in front of me. Mother appears by his side looking a little peeved.
“Are you almost ready to go home? You promised you were going to make us dinner tonight.” Her statement draws a few heads including Camden’s. Camden and mother lock eyes for a moment and Camden quickly shifts his head to the side and starts answering the question of the villager farthest away from mother.
“I’m sorry mom. I wasn’t expecting that we would’ve had to stand up front this whole time. I have to grab something at Del’s place really quick but I can meet you back home in a few minutes.” I apologize to a cross mother.
“That’s fine as long as you hurry.” She looks between master and me a few times before she turns her body to face master directly. “Del-Razen, won’t you join us for dinner?” Mother blindsides master with the dinner offer.
“Aaaaa.” Master’s speechless.
“I won’t take no for an answer.” Mother ushers master on his way and the three of them start making their way back through the crowd. Mother shouts over her shoulder, “Hurry along sweety, and remember you promised us the best dinner ever.”
She still must be peeved at me. I need to hurry.
Double Step helps me make it through the crowd before it closes in on me again. I rush back to master’s clearing. I wish I could’ve brought my pan with me to the meeting but it would’ve been in bad taste if I was forced to stand up front of everyone holding a pan in one hand, while listening to the problems of the village.
Adding master to my dinner plans shouldn’t be that hard. I was planning a feast and adding one more mouth to feed won’t be a problem.
I wonder how master is going to handle mother’s questioning?
The hairs stand up on my neck. I can’t leave him alone with my family! Flash Step! I launch myself towards Del’s house. I need to move faster!
With my new pan in hand, I arrive back home.
I’m a little sweaty from my run back here but it was a good idea to clean myself with magic after I reached Del’s hut.
Opening the door, I see my parents and Master Del sitting at our table.
“Oh, back already. I didn’t mean you had to run the whole way, sweety.” I wipe the sweat from my face and change my shoes.
“I didn’t want to keep you all waiting.” I try to deliver my best smile I can to mother while scanning Del in the side of my vision. Did he say anything?!
I make my way past the table and steal a quick look at master. He doesn’t look troubled, that’s a good sign.
I quickly move towards the fireplace and fill it with kindling then cast my fire spell.
“Llaif gamfr ol e nnamse!”
The kindling catches and I add a log for good measure. I move over to the counter and check my supplies I gathered this morning. I woke up earlier than usual to find some herbs in the forest alongside bartering for some butter from Granny Gellar. I was surprised she wouldn’t accept my payment, saying I deserved it for all my hard work. It wasn’t until the meeting I realized the attention everyone was giving me.
I double-check our pomme reserves and make sure we have enough blood maize to accommodate everyone. We have six ears of maize which should be more than enough.
A quick tug and I peel the cobs of maize. I lay the pomme on a cutting board and ready my knife.
“So Del, you were telling us about your troubles facing the ‘humongous’ spider.” I almost cut my finger when I overhear mother talking to master.
“Sadly, my strength wasn’t enough. If it wasn’t for Aaliyah’s last-ditch attempt to stop the beast we would have had to run.”
I turn around and force a smile at master. “I don’t think they want to hear a story like that so close to dinner!” I might have said that a little too quickly.
“Oh, but we do.” Mother glares at me. Master looks confused between us. “You see Del, Aaliyah told us she killed the beast in a minute with her amazing magic. She seemed to have left out some ‘key’ details.”
Master finally realizes what’s going on. “Maybe this conversation should wait until after diner.”
“It’s fine… continue.” Oh gods! Her smile makes master shiver. You’ve doomed us both you fool!
“Master’s horrible at telling stories. Let me explain how it happened.” I take a step towards the table.
“You have dinner to finish first.” Mother smiles at me but I can see that her eyes are cold.
She’s going to kill me and I’m making my own last meal.
I only have one chance to save myself. This dinner has to be so good it causes her to forget about her anger. Can I cook something that good? I glance back at mother.
She’s leaning forward resting her head on her hand listening to Del stammer out his experience in the woods. Her eyes shift in my direction and I suddenly feel cold.
I have to get this dinner perfect. I turn around and focus on the task at hand. First, I’ll get the pomme going. I put a pot of water on the fire while I clean and pomme and cut them into fours. I add the pomme into the pot and move over to the blood maize. Another pot of water and I have the maize boiling. The trick is to keep the two pots at different distances from the fire so they cook at different speeds.
The spider meat will cook a lot faster so I prepare my butter seasoning first. I use a small amount of pepper like seasoning mixed with a few herbs from the forest. I’ll mix some of the herbs with the butter to use on the spider meat and blood maize. The rest of the seasonings will be mixed with the pomme when I’m ready to mash them up.
I move over to the spider legs I brought home with me. Using Sense Mana, I can see the mana contained in the meat is only 30% what it was originally. The meat would probably last another day but I plan on cooking the last of it tonight.
Time to use my new pan! I grab the pan and walk over to the fireplace. I stick the whole base inside the flames and watch it quickly glow hot in the fire.
I move back over to the counter and place the hot pan on a flat stone we use for the pot of stew every night. I put half the butter in the pan and swish it around until it coats the bottom. Adding in some spices I can finally put the meat in.
The sizzling sound briefly stops the conversation back at the table. I juggle watching everything until my skills help me determine the best time to remove everything. I mash the pomme and add the seasonings to everything before I grab some bronze plates, I made for our family a few years ago.
Everyone gets a large helping of mashed potatoes, I mean mashed pomme. A full cob of blood maize and a larger chunk of spider meat.
Using my high dexterity, I carry all four plates to the table. Master and my parents look surprised with the meal I place in front of them. Master may be used to the spider meat but I’m sure the seasonings I used this time will make it multiple times better.
I make sure everyone has utensils and a drink before I have the honor of reciting the prayer.
“We give our thanks to the gods and spirits of the forest. We thank you for the food we received and the continued health of our family, may your blessings hold true.”
I watch everyone take their first bite of blood maize and mashed pomme. Mom and dad look reluctant to try the spider meat. They both notice me staring and hesitantly rip a piece of meat off with their forks.
Master follows their example and all three of the take a bite at the same time. Watching their eyes open together brings me a huge sense of accomplishment.
“You’ve gotten better at preparing it.” Master mumbles between his bites.
“This is amazing.” Dad examines his second bite before shoving it in his mouth.
“You did an excellent job, sweety.” Despite all the spine tingling looks she’s sent me tonight; mother gives me a heartfelt smile after tasting the meat.
The rest of dinner was nothing but smiles as we gorged ourselves on the magic beast meat.
I made sure to collect everyone’s dishes as we finished and cleaned everything myself. With the new pan cleaned, I move over to mom to show her my gift.
“What is this?” She examines the pan.
“It’s a special metal that master and I made. It absorbs and retains heat. You can stick the pan in the fire then pull it out and cook directly on the counter top. If it cools too much you just need to wave it in the fireplace for a little bit to heat it back up.” This might just work!
“So, it’s a semi-magical item without any runes. It’s beautiful, sweety.” She caresses the sides of the pan with a smile on her face. “I just have one question.”
“What about mom?” I lean in to give her a hug.
As my arms wrap around her, she turns and shows me her bright smile. “Is this supposed to be a bribe?” My grin vanishes.
“Well I’m turning in for the night. Thanks for the food.” Master bolts out the door before anyone can object.
I feel mom’s arms interlock around me. I can’t escape!
“My family always taught me whenever you’re bribing someone the gift needs to match the occasion. Did you think dinner and a pan was enough to cover lying about your fight with the magic beast and not following your promise to me?”
Mom’s eyes flash for a second and a, “Yes” slips through my teeth. Why did I say that! Was that a skill!
“A new skill I picked up while you were gone. Eyes of Truth, a good skill, don’t you agree?” Thank the gods I don’t feel compelled to answer that question truthfully.
“Congratulations.” I can only force a half-smile.
“You left me there alone, you coward!” I yell down at Master Del.
“I saw where the conversation was going. I saw a chance and took it. You can’t blame me for that. Besides, it must not have been that bad if you’re here today.”
I sneer down at master. “I had to beg mother to hold off on my punishment. I get to make my sword today and then the next five days I owe to my parents.”
“That’s good, I’ll finally get a day to rest properly.” I lift my arm ready to punch the lazy dwarf but hesitate at the last moment. I don’t have time for this.
I lower my arm and turn around towards the crucible we left yesterday. Using Sense Mana, I can see the puck of ore inside the crucible. The mana is no longer escaping the metal but I can still see the heat ready to explode from inside the puck.
Plucking a small stick from the ground I place the tip up against the crucible. The twig doesn’t smolder letting me know I can touch the crucible without burning myself. A steady heat is still radiating off of the jar as I move to open it.
Master leans over and hands me some tongs. I didn’t hear him approach, I suppose he’s just as curious as me if the alloy we made will work.
Once the lid is removed, I’m happy to see the layer of glass isn’t in a liquid state. I pick up a small hammer and break the glass seal. I remove the chunks and try to grab the ‘Fire Steel’ with the tongs.
The puck shines brightly in the sunlight and sports a faded orange color. I almost want to cry when I don’t see any lines running through the metal. A quick scan with my mana sense reveals an even structure inside the puck. The ‘Fire Iron’ and chameleon spider carapace fused perfectly.
“Guess we’ll need to use the gem snail powder after all.” Del exclaims. That reminds me I still have a lot of work to do!
I take off to grab the supplies I need. Gem snail steel is a slightly softer steel that’s capable of withstanding both high and low temperatures and is known to take a beating before it breaks. The only down side is the mixture for the steel is 80% iron ore and 20% gem snail powder. A decent size ingot uses a ridiculous amount of crushed shells. The only time I’ve worked with the metal is when we forged father a new axe last year and even then, it was layered with regular steel.
I let master prepare the crucible this time while I get the forge going. I have to use ‘Blacksmith’s’ logs again to get the fire hot enough. I’ll have to help dad harvest some more wood when I go out with him again.
Once the flames are strong enough, we place the crucible inside.
“Can you watch the forge for me master?”
“You sure?” He knows how much I like to do everything by myself as much as I can.
“I need to get all the supplies ready for what’s next.”
“Alright. I’ll call you over when it’s ready.”
“Thank you.” I run off to prepare everything I need.
I spend the next hour prepping everything I need so I can finish my weapon in one day.
I have neither the skill or knowledge to make a true katana. I know they were over hyped back on earth but I’ve always wanted one. A magic katana will have to be a substitute for an authentic one I could never afford in my previous life.
“It’s ready.” Master shouts out.
Let’s do this.
I move next to master and activate my Mana Skin skill. “From here on out I want to do everything myself.”
Master nods to me. “I’ll leave it to you but if I see you about to waste the metal, I’ll step in.”
“That’s fair.” I mana quench the crucible. After I remove the lid and glass, I can see the dark grey metal that will be the spine of my sword.
Using some tongs, I place the puck back in the forge. It takes more than a minute to get the new steel hot enough to move.
I wait for the metal to turn the right shade of red before I move it to the anvil. I’m not stingy with my skills this time and alternate between Double Strike and Weighted strike. The metal slowly takes on a brick shape before I start drawing it out. The steel is top notch so I’ll only fold it four times to make sure everything is perfectly even inside the metal.
Master stands off to my side looking like a statue. His eyes are trained solely on the steel. If I mess up, he won’t hesitate to stop me.
With each fold I pump a little bit of mana into the metal. The surge of mana helps to dislodge the scale that forms from the oxidation on the outside of metal.
I make sure to check the structure of the metal with Sense Mana after every fold. I only take the time to wipe the perspiration on my face after the steel is shaped in a cylinder and I can’t spot any flaws within the metal.
I set the steel aside and move back to the forge. I place more logs in the forge and move my ‘Fire Steel’ in the hottest part of the flames. This magic alloy was already quite pure but I need to fold it six times to account for the carapace fused with the steel.
The ‘Fire Steel’ absorbs the heat of the forge but takes just as long as the gem snail steel to reach a temperature that I can shape it. Even as I remove the steel from the forge red flames dance across its surface. I feed the steel some of my mana to keep it hot as I can while I work it the same way I did the other part of my sword.
After the sixth fold I work the steel into a rectangle and start to curve the metal. I leave the flaming steel on the anvil and move the gem snail steel back into the forge. Soon the ‘Fire Steel joins it.
Now comes the hard part.
The ‘Fire Steel will be a jacket that wraps halfway around the gem snail steel. It isn’t hard to fuse the metals together but for this to be a proper magic sword I need the grains of the steel to match perfectly alongside the mana flow between the two of them. When I inject my mana into the sword it needs to flow evenly throughout the whole thing.
Here goes nothing.
I pull the ‘Fire Steel’ out of the forge and place it on the anvil. Next, I remove the gem snail steel and examine every side of the cylinder. I find the side that best matches the pattern in the ‘Fire Steel’.
I carefully place the cylinder in its jacket. I can’t mess this up now.
I use Double Strike, Precise Strike, and Weighted Strike all at the same time, delivering incredible hammer blows at the cost of a significant chunk of my Stamina.
I carefully pound the different steels into a single ingot. I use Inject Mana, sending a pulse of my mana through the steel. The grain of the steel matches perfectly but my heart drops when the mana inside the metal isn’t connected in the same way.
The sword would still work even with this flaw but it would cost a lot more mana to produce the flames on the blade.
I need to try and fuse the two different mana flows with Mana Manipulation. I send more pulses of my mana into the steel and try to carve new pathways for the different mana flows to connect. It’s like connecting two freeways together with an off ramp. As long as you can get from one to the other in a fluid motion everything moves smoother.
I start sweating as I use more and more of my mana.
One more pulse of mana lets me spread my mana throughout the whole ingot evenly. I move the bar of steel back into the forge and move to wipe my eyes. The sweat almost blinded me there for a second.
Now I can draw the bar of steel out and form the bare bones of a katana.
I work the steel out to be 34’’ long. The blade will be 25’’ long while the handle will be 9’’ long.
I spend the next four hours alternating my skills until a sword lays in front of me. I look at the flames dancing along the edge of the blade. I need the blade cooler for the next part so I’ll have to remove most of the heat from the sword.
It takes ten minutes and 184 points of mana to reduce the blade to an inert form. I take the sword over to two jars of clay I prepared earlier. I sit down and cover the blade in the two types of clay. A thicker clay for the spine of the sword and a lighter clay for the blade edge.
The two types of clay make the different parts of the sword quench at different speeds. This quenching gives the sword its iconic bend and gives the swords edge a stronger finish.
I’m not sure it will work with the steel I used but I use a twig to draw a straight line between the two clays. I’ll take any pattern on the blade that I can get.
Master looks confused by the clay but follows me back to the forge.
I heat my sword up in the forge one last time.
I carefully monitor not only the outside of the blade but the inside as well. I’m not sure if master has seen anything like this before but the final quenching will be the hardest part. I need to remove the heat from the blade rapidly but the material I used wants to hold on to all the heat that it can.
It’s dangerous but I move my mana skin barrier to only my hands. I immediately feel the incredible heat of the forge on my face but I ignore it. In one quick motion I grab the handle of my sword and yank it out of the fire with my bare hands. I think I hear master yell at me but I’m too focused to hear what he’s saying.
I can feel the heat eating away at the barrier covering my hands. Using Inject Mana, Expel Mana, and Mana Manipulation together, I dump 450 points of mana into my new sword. The vast amount of mana I push through the sword drains the heat from the sword in a split second.
The expelled heat sizzles the air as the sword forms its iconic bend.
My Mana Skin fails and I crumple to my knees with only 132 of my mana left. I stare down at the orange and grey sword in my hands. I still need to make a proper handle alongside sharpening it and polishing the blade but the hardest part is over.
“Are you ok!?” I look up noticing master standing over me looking worried.
I may be sweaty and pale from the mana exertion but I’ve never felt better. “It worked!”
Masters worry turns into an exasperated smile. “Congratulations.” He says with just a hint of sarcasm.
I’ll take it.