?????????? Point of View:
“When will they be here!? We’ve been sitting here for two days!”
“We should’ve moved closer to the village.”
"Quiet, all of you! I paid you, so you do what I say! Now shut up, or I'll cut your tongues out myself!" I snarl at the two filthy bandits, releasing a small part of my killing intent to establish authority.
The two bandits next to me cringe back in fear.
It's annoying I have to deal with such rabble. Once this job is done, I'll take great pleasure in silencing each of them.
I usually only work with my three men, but this job is different. Mr. Grey hired us to kill someone under the protection of a Number. The average person doesn't know of their existence, but people in our field are painfully aware of the private high-leveled soldiers the Silver Herd company employs to deal with its problems.
Silver Herd might not be considered one of the major trading companies yet, but they’ve adopted the practice of recruiting ‘problem solvers’ since their conception.
The Numbers, as they're called, are sent out to take care of the darker sides of Silver Herds business. We're on the outskirts of Olebert, and there aren't many who do what we do. Killing, kidnapping, extortion, spying, we do all of it; only the Numbers are said to do it better.
I don't know why a Number is escorting a nameless merchant I've never heard of, out here in the middle of nowhere no less, but that doesn't matter. We're not paid to ask questions; we do our job as ordered and nothing more.
And because of the difficulty of this job, I had to bring in some fodder.
The bandits don't know who they'll be charging at, and that's how I'm going to keep it. All of them are meant to die, so long as they buy us enough time to complete our mission.
The Number may be the most challenging aspect of the job, but he's not our target. We were promised a bonus if we could kill the Number; however, our primary goal is to kill the merchant known as Kervin. But unless the Number severely falls under my expectations, we plan to kill the merchant and flee while the Number murders all the idiots we brought along with us. If any of them survive, we'll catch them at the meet-up point and finish off the survivors.
I have no intention of dealing with the Number unless I absolutely have to.
Mr. Grey informed me I should be close to his level, but that means little in our line of business. A young man at level 10 can easily stab and kill someone three times his level if he has the necessary skills. Ours is a job of surprise; whichever side who can surprise the other the most usually wins.
That's why we're three days away from the village instead of waiting for them by the forest's entrance. If, for some reason, Mr. Grey is wrong and the Number knows about the contract on the merchant, switching up our plans will be the best strategy.
I let out a soft sigh so quiet the bandits don’t notice. Facing off against someone who knows your usual plays are the worst.
The bandit closest to me swats the back of his neck. “Damn bugs! Why did we have to set up so far into the woods?!”
Moving forward, my arm stretched out, I resist the urge to strangle the smelly man. Thinking about how easy it would be to kill him, I only pause my advance when I hear something faint on the wind.
The bandit levels his spear at me to defend himself, but my senses are trained elsewhere. In the distance, I hear the mating cry of a forest finch; only forest finches don’t start their mating season until mid-summer. That’s the signal the cart is approaching!
I turn my attention back to the bandit cowering in front of me. I make a fist and point two fingers down the road. The bandit and his friend’s eyes widen in understanding and move to take their places.
I'm sure my other associates detected the signal and are moving the other bandits into position as well. We'll attack the cart from each side with a four-prong attack.
After signaling us, Dennis will have his group let the cart pass and ambush them from the rear. Jake will attack their left flank while Oren moves in from the right. I’ll take the front, and they won’t know what hit them.
We’ll let the bandits charge forward and wait for the perfect chance to kill the merchant. Then we’ll make our escape into the woods.
The forest is silent as the sound of a cart jostling down the forest path grows louder. Any moment now, we should be able to see it.
As soon as the cart comes into view, I move to signal the bandit's attack, but freeze upon seeing the cart is empty! The reigns controlling the four silver bivol are loosely tied to the cart, and the pack animals are steadily marching forward on their own. In the bed of the cart, there are three crates next to one another but nothing else.
Damn, did the Number sense us!? Did they abandon the cart and cut through the forest!? It would be nearly impossible for us to find their tracks and catch up to them.
First, we need to inspect the cart for any clues.
I signal for the confused bandits to move in. My men and I will hang back, just in case they booby-trapped it.
Seven of the nine bandits move from their hiding spots and slowly approach the cart. Where are the two that were with Dennis?
My instincts scream at me that something is wrong, but I don't have time to call back the bandits before they reach the cart.
Two of the crates' tops fly off, and two men in hide armor burst out wielding bucklers and swords. With the viciousness of cornered animals, the two bodyguards swing their swords, instantly killing the four closest bandits.
Shit, they had their own ambush planned for us! That means!
The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I roll to the side, just as a dagger slices the air where my neck was a moment ago.
“Good instincts,” I hear as I roll and spring to my feet, drawing my short sword.
I stare down at the man who materialized next to me without making a sound. What stands out the most to me is how calm and happy he appears to be. He has a sadistic grin plastered across his face, enjoying the fact I survived his first strike.
Damn the gods! With my luck, I got one of the crazier Numbers. He must have circled around us. I can only assume he's already killed Dennis because I don't see the bandits that were supposed to be with him. Did the Number know our signal, or did he wait for Dennis to signal us, kill him, then circle around to the front, all in under three minutes?
I hear the screams of the bandits we hired, but I don't take my eyes off the Number in front of me. The rest of my team will have to take care of the rest while I stall this monster. They know we need to focus on killing the merchant. If the Number is with me and the other two guards were hidden inside the crates, it stands to reason the merchant is hiding inside the third one.
"I'm curious, how much did Grey pay you? Not enough, I suppose, if you only brought this riffraff with you." The Number taunts me.
He might be fishing for information, so I keep my face neutral.
"Silence, huh? You're no fun. I'm sure she would banter in this situation," the Number flicks his wrist, throwing the dagger in his right hand at my face. I move my head to the left and hear the thunk of the blade hitting the tree behind me.
The Number rushes me, drawing another dagger to replace the one he just threw. I parry the new dagger in his right hand with my short sword and use my free hand to grab his left forearm, stopping him from stabbing me with his other blade.
I try to knee him, but he raises his leg to block me. Each of us pushes against the other, testing to see who is stronger. I have more Strength, but he has the better footing.
While we're locked together, I take a split second to glance at the battle around the cart. All the bandits lie dead already, with Jake and Oren squaring off with the two bodyguards. They've ditched their bows for their swords. The remaining crate looks like a pincushion, meaning we only need to confirm the body inside before we can retreat.
I need to gain some distance from the Number.
I stop pushing back, letting the Number push me over. As we fall, locked together, I bring my foot up to his armored chest and push with all my might as soon as I hit the ground. The Number is launched over my head, through the air, backflipping before landing on his feet.
I quickly scramble to my own feet before he can catch me with my guard down.
"You're decent, but not very original," the Number sheathes the dagger in his right hand and pulls out a different one that was hidden near his back. The new dagger has a sheen on the blade's edge, most likely poisoned. "You haven't fought that many assassins close to your level, have you? It shows in how you approached your ambush. If I weren't with them, 99 out of 100 times, you would've easily killed everyone, but I know how you operate. When you're facing someone you can't beat in a fair fight; you need to be extra creative. I once watched a girl blow herself up to kill all her attackers. That's creativity!"
This man is pissing me off! And who does he keep comparing me to?
This time I take the initiative to attack the Number. I slice at his right side, and as expected, he blocks with his poisoned dagger, but he isn't the only one with a knife. In one fluid motion, I draw my own knife and slice at his face.
The Number takes a step back, narrowly avoiding me nicking his eye. His cheek starts to bleed, but he ignores the wound. Instead, the Number tries to stab me with his non poisoned dagger after I missed my mark.
I step back with my left foot and bring my dagger in close for defense. Our blades meet again, and I can feel his superior weapon digging into mine. Unlike him, I don't have a wealthy backer throwing money into my equipment. My short sword is my best weapon, but I can't risk getting cut by his poisoned dagger.
Again, we’re forced into a tense stalemate, only momentarily breaking off from one another to catch our breaths. I'm breathing more heavily than the Number, and that isn't a good sign.
Come on, Jake, Oren, I need the two of you to hurry up!
The Number recovers faster than me, and I'm forced to retreat as he advances on me. The longer we exchange attacks, the more the Number seems to be enjoying himself. His strikes are becoming sloppier, but they're coming at me faster than before and are much more difficult to predict.
He dances around a tree and rushes at me with both of his daggers raised like a snarling farkas. I try to switch my stance to better parry his strike, but he’s on me before I can properly root myself in place. With my stance broken, I can't block both of his strikes, so I make a split-second decision and use my short sword to perry the dagger in his right hand.
When our blades meet, the Number steps forward and slices at my elbow joint, where there is a small gap in my armor. He doesn't hit anywhere near anything vital, but I can feel the blood start to leak in between my skin and armor.
The Number backs off after his successful strike and gives me a predatory grin. "And it's my win."
“This isn’t over yet!” I break my silence, getting my feet back into position.
"Oh, but it is," the Number holds up the dagger in his left hand. The sheen on the dagger is unmistakable.
“But when?” I ask, the color draining from my face.
His smile says it all. He must have switched his daggers when he moved around the tree.
I don't know what kind of poison he's using, but it doesn't matter at this point. Looking at Jake and Oren, I see they're still being held back by the guards. Damn, Grey told us the other two wouldn't be a problem. I guess he was wrong about everything.
"Jake, Oren, retreat!" I shout. Both of them don't even spare me a glance as they follow my orders and dash into the forest in opposite directions.
I grimace as my arm starts to feel like pins and needles are erupting from my skin. Gritting my teeth, I turn back to the Number who's still smiling at me. I’m probably already a dead man, so I need to hold him off until the two of them can get far enough away.
I ready myself, but the prickling sensation that feels like frostbite is steadily spreading throughout my body.
"Painful, isn't it?" The Number taunts me with a smile. "I this was going to be more of a challenge, so I used one of my best poisons. I call it Winter's Bite, It's a rare type of ice attribute poison. It mixes in with your bloodstream and freezes everything it comes in contact with. Your very blood turns into ice crystals, which shred your body from the inside out. Your organs will slowly fail you as it feels like you’re walking through a snowstorm naked.”
“Sick, bastard,” I mutter through chattering teeth.
"I wonder if your comrades will make the same expression as you when I corner them?" The Number turns his back on me. He must think there’s no more point in fighting me, he’s probably intending to hunt down Jake and Oren.
Despite the overwhelming pain and cold I'm feeling, I force myself forward. One strike is all I need to take this bastard with me!
Sadly, as soon as I move to stab the Number, he dodges me. He was expecting my suicidal charge, damn.
I can't react with my dulled senses as he stabs one of his daggers into my side and the other into my shoulder. Dropping to the ground, I lose the little feeling I still had in my limbs.
The Number turns his back on me again, sure that I don’t have anything left in me and shouts to his companions. "This one is finished. Be on the alert as I hunt down the other two. Oh yeah, you can come out now, Kervin."
It's hard to move my head as everything goes cold and dark, but I manage to see our target crawl out from underneath the cart. He wasn’t even in the crate; he was hiding near the cart's axels. The third crate was just another decoy. Everything was a total loss on our part.
After the Number sees that his client is ok, he takes off into the woods, hunting down my friends.
I pray that I don't see them on the other side. The last thing I think about is, who was the Number comparing me to, another foe? Or was it someone strong who earned his respect?
Aaliyah’s Point of View:
“What do you think, master?” I show off my quenched sword and set it down next to my knife.
“You changed the design of your sword,” master quickly spots the differences in my work.
“I liked my old design, but it didn't have the power I needed. I thought about making another katana, only this time making it three times as thick, but that seemed counter intuitive. So, this time I decided to make a scimitar. It will be bigger, heavier, and just as deadly as my katana," I explain my design choice to master.
“Is that wise? You’ll have to get used to a new type of sword.”
“I’ll just treat it as a new challenge,” I reassure him. “Besides, it won’t be my main weapon anyways. I’m sure the axe and hammer I make will be a much better fit for me.”
Master hums in agreement.
As fun as it is comparing notes with Master, I need to get a move on. I'm burning precious daylight after all. I spent the first half of the day working on the metal; now, I need to make the handles for my weapons and sharpen them.
The grips don’t matter that much right now because I plan to change them in the future. Unlike my katana, channeling magic into my new weapons won't do anything. I'll need suitable materials for channeling magic when I finally enchant my gear, but I'll stick with good old farkas bones until then.
The bones make exceptional grips after you carve a texture onto them. It also helps that master still has quite a few bones leftover from before the chameleon spiders took over the woods.
That's another thing I'll need to keep an eye out for. Now that everything is returning to the forest, the farkas should start showing up again, along with small bands of goblins. And unlike chameleon spiders, goblins and farkas aren't scared of rushing into the village to grab their prey. Though I doubt either of those beasts could do much to me anymore. I wouldn't even need any weapons to kill a lesser goblin; my bare hands would be more than enough.
To think just a few years ago I was terrified of goblins, and now I’m imagining ripping them apart as if they were nothing more than paper.
I think over how much everything has changed as I pick out the bones I need and cut them into shape. I'm not the only one who's stronger. The whole village has grown over the last year. If we had to redo the year again as we are now, the goblin horde would barely be considered a threat.
Thanks to all our struggles, I truly believe next year will be the best year in Spotted Creek's history.
Hell, having Sandra back basically guarantees the village’s success.
Last night dad told us how Sandra used earth magic to turn the soil in the fields over. She did what would’ve taken a dozen men a few days to accomplish in only a few hours. Apparently, Markus and Ezekiel were so surprised by her magic they nearly fainted.
Thanks to Sandra, the prep time to get the fields ready for sowing has been cut down substantially. Once the wortel is harvested, Sandra just needs to cast her spell, and the next day the next crops can be planted.
With magic, skills, and larger fields, the village is about to have more food than we know what to do with.
Everyone deserves it, I think to myself, as I secure the bone handles to my knife and scimitar. I gather up all the tools I need and move over to a bench to sharpen and polish the blades.
Falling into a light bout of Meditation, I don't notice the sun passing overhead as I complete my detailing work.
"I think it's about time you head home," master reminds me, bringing me back to my senses.
I look up at the sky and see the vivid reds of the sunset. Standing up and stretching out my limbs, I laugh. “Nothing like sharpening a sword to pass the time, huh?” I smile at Del.
Master smiles in agreement. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”
“Of course, I still have a lot more to do.”
“I thought so,” master yawns.
“Don’t worry,” I tell him. “After I finish my axe and war hammer, I think I’ll take a few days off before I start on my armor.”
"That's good; I thought you weren't going to stop until you burnt through your whole supply of kaglese," master light-heartedly jokes.
“Now there’s an idea,” I playfully grin at master.
“Night, master,” I wave goodbye to Del while grabbing my stuff and head home for the night.
I look like I'm heading off to war, not home. I have dad's axe in my left hand, my new scimitar in my right, and my new dagger wrapped in a piece of leather sticking out of one of my pockets.
The rest of the night flies by just as the last few days have been. Richard joins us for dinner, we laugh and talk about our days. I tell dad I don't need to borrow his extra axe anymore. Mom agreed to help me make sheaths for everything on my next day off, so long as I help her with Richard's wedding tassel.
Same old, same old.
The next day, I shoot out of my bed as soon as the sun’s first light shines through my window.
Today is the day I make something new!
While I change into my work clothes and tie up my hair, I contemplate the type of axe I'll try to make today. I've made axes before, but most of them have been woodsman axes for felling trees. This time I want to make a double-sided battle-axe for myself, a monstrosity of a weapon that could chop a man in half even if he's wearing armor.
I thought about making a hammer ax hybrid but eventually discarded the idea. Sure, a hybrid weapon would serve more of a function, but changing battle tactics halfway through a fight is much more challenging than you would think. It would be terrible if you swung the axe part of the weapon in the heat of the moment when you intended to use the hammer side.
No, it's best to double down on your weapon of choice. A double-headed axe is perfect because you can switch sides if the blade gets dull or damaged in a fight.
I might try making a hybrid version later at some point, but for now, I'm keeping my weapons separated.
Kissing Mother and Father goodbye, I head off to Del’s clearing with my new scimitar in hand for defense. Is it wrong that I want a band of goblins to attack me just so I can try it out?
I also have my new knife strapped to my side much like I used to keep my old one. With little effort, last night Mom was able to help me adjust my old knife sheath to fit my new one, so I can carry my backup weapon without worrying about dropping it or accidentally stabbing myself.
“Morning, master!” I call out my usual greeting to Master Del as I enter his clearing.
Master greets with a wave and a yawn. He must have known I would be here early because this time, master already has the forge going, fuel set aside, and all the materials I’ll need set up neatly on my workbench. It must have taken him at least two hours to set this all up for me, meaning he must have been up before sunrise.
I want to thank him, but master cuts me off before I can try. "If you need me, I'll be on my bench sleeping."
Knowing he doesn't want my thanks, I utter a 'thank you' in my heart and get to work.
I have a lot to do if I want to finish my axe by the end of the day. First, I get the forge to the temperature I need it. Then I repeat the first few steps from yesterday, only with more metal. I used one kaglese ingot yesterday to make both my scimitar and dagger. Today, I'm using one and a half ingots of kaglese, along with the steel and mithril I'll be mixing in, to craft my battle-axe.
Like the spears I made for the army, the entire battle-axe will be made of metal, handle and all. I could save some kaglese if I only forged the axe heads from metal, but I don't have access to the proper materials to make a sturdy handle that would hold up under my Strength stat.
The axe I'm making would be physically impossible to wield back on Earth. I'm no historian, but I know I'm making an axe you would be more likely to find in a video game rather than in a museum. Real battle-axes only weighed around seven pounds; the behemoth I'm making will probably be over forty pounds and more suited to someone with my stats.
Once I have the first ingot properly heated, I move it over to the anvil and chop it in half. Then, I put all the steel and kaglese I'll be using into the crucible. There is so much in the crucible; I almost can't seal it.
I place the heavy crucible into the forge and move over to my workbench to sketch out my design really quickly. The design I'm going for is very much your general two-handed battle-axe you would find in any standard fantasy game. The axe will have a long handle with two overly large axheads attached to the top, and that was pretty much it.
I plan to make the finished product a lot nicer, but with this, I know which direction I'm going in. It's a good thing I have plenty of time to think over my design.
Getting the metals to bond properly takes longer because of how much metal I'm working with this time. It takes a whole two hours before I'm able to remove the crucible from the forge. Usually, I would have to wait a lot longer for the liquid metal to cool, but thanks to mana quenching, I can speed up the process a bit.
I get the metal to cool down to a point where it's solid but still hot enough I can immediately start working it.
Studying the lump of metal, I take note of its internal mana structure and plan which parts I'll use for the blades and which will be drawn out for the handle. There are a few micro fractures in the metal I'll need to take care of first, but I can generally see where everything will go.
I start by taking care of the structural issues I spotted first before then adding the mithril to finish off the alloy. Then, I start the long and arduous process of moving everything into its proper shape.
What proceeds is a constant shifting of my metal from the forge to the anvil and back again. Kaglese is strong, light, and flexible in its pure state, but when you add steel and a touch of mithril into the equation, you get a strong earth attuned alloy. I can work the metal without my skills as long as I put most of my Strength into my plows; however, finishing the axe that way would take me much longer than I was comfortable with.
I'm thankful my skills and magic allow me to do in a day what blacksmiths back on Earth would take several days to complete.
Six hours, eight hours, at the ten-hour mark, I'm still working on a rough version of my axe. My arms feel like wet noodles, and I decide to take a quick break. Master taught me to respect my limits and to realize that you'll produce nothing but shoddy work if you push yourself too hard.
Setting my rough work down, I move over and plop down on the bench closest to master and proceed to drain my waterskin.
"I was wondering when you would take a break," master remarks, lying down with his eyes closed.
“I didn’t want to,” I grunt. “I only have a few more hours until the sun starts to go down.”
"And is there some reason you can't finish your axe tomorrow?"
"I thought you wanted me to finish as quickly as possible?" I playfully quip.
"Don't try and use me as an excuse," master opens his eyes and gives me a serious look. "You're the one rushing yourself. You won't gain any extra experience if your work suffers from your impatience."
Sage Del comes out now that master has gotten a bit of rest. I joke, but I know he's right.
“You plan on using these weapons in the deeper parts of the forest, yes? You should be treating each one like the arrow you made for the general.”
I take a deep breath and let out a long sigh. “You’re right,” I admit.
“I usually am,” Master smirks with confidence.
I snort at master's remark, and we both share a quick laugh. "Don't complain when I come early tomorrow," I tell him.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Master closes his eyes again.
I rest until my arms feel better and get back to work, slowing my pace, making sure everything is perfect as I progress through the rest of the day.
“What day is it now?” Master asks as I walk up to him.
“Six,” I inform him with a smile.
“Gods,” master exclaims.
Though I find master's antics funny, I have to agree with him. I’m quite tired myself.
Yesterday, I managed to finish up my axe and got the metal ready for the war hammer today but it wasn’t easy. I think my fatigue is compounding on itself. I slept like the dead last night to the point Mom had to wake me up this morning, it was the first time she had to do that in a while.
“You think you’ll finish today? Master questions me.
“Honestly,” I let out a long yawn. “Probably not.”
"I expected as much. You want my help?"
I'm tempted to take master up on his offer, but I need to be the one to make my weapons. Only I can see the metal's mana structure, and after spending so much time on this project already, I’ll be damned if I don’t finish it properly.
“That’s ok,” I reluctantly shake my head. “I got this.”
"Alright, let me know if you need anything."
“Will do,” I promise.
Master moves off to the side, giving me room to work. I already have a large ingot prepared from yesterday, so I just have to heat it back up. Placing the metal in the forge, I mentally prepare myself for what comes next.
Crafting a war hammer is quite similar to making a battle-axe, with only a few differences. The handle for the war hammer will be shorter; the handle I made for my axe measured three and a half feet, while the hammer I'm making will only be two and a half. The axe heads had to be drawn out for the blades, while the war hammer will be large chunks of metal on each end.
While the inspiration for my axe came from video games, my war hammer design was much more practical in comparison. I decided to shape my war hammer like a ball-peen hammer, much like the ones we use to forge metal.
My reasoning is, though I'll mostly be using the flat side, I'm sure the rounded side will prove helpful in certain situations. Also, I think my skills might transfer over easier if I'm using a hammer I'm more familiar with. Only this hammer will be a much larger and heavier version than the ones I'm used to.
Both of the hammer's heads will be much larger, but I think it'll prove to be a good weapon. I considered a hammer with a spike on one end but figured if I'm using my hammer, then that means I'm using it for blunt force trauma rather than piercing my enemies. If I need to stick or cut something, my sword or axe would be a better choice.
I see the metal ingot is almost at the temperature I need it, so I prepare the tongs. When I’m done with this fiery ingot, I’ll have myself a war hammer.
Time to finish strong.