Why did Sandra and Richard have to choose now of all times to visit me?
Don't get me wrong; I want to talk to Sandra; Richard, less so. But gods, the timing! I can’t turn away from the arrow in my hands. It’s a good thing Master got up to warn them not to distract me.
I’m busy soldering the fletching onto an arrow, only I'm not using a soft metal like tin this time. Maybe if I had some sort of magic tin, it would work ok, but regular tin wouldn’t hold up under the forces the arrow was likely to be subjected to.
I was told my previous arrow managed to hurt Pacore, that’s all well and good, but I’ve leveled significantly since I made that arrow, and I want this new batch to be even better.
So, no tin here, this time, I'm using a copper/steel alloy that’s had a bit of mithril thrown into the mixture to do the job instead. I already tested the alloy, and though it keeps most of the steel's strength, it also gives it better flexibility.
Like I did with the previous arrow, I prepped the feathers and carved out the groves where the fletching will sit with my engraving pen. But now's the tricky part. First, I stretched out the chunk of steel alloy I’m using as the filler metal as thin as I could get it, and now I'm shifting it around in my forge.
It might not be pure steel, but the alloy still melts at a much higher melting point than tin. So I need to keep it as hot as possible, which requires me to put it in the hottest part of the forge. Last time I could use Mana Skin to keep my hands safe while retaining my dexterity when soldering, but even though Mana Skin has grown as strong as it has, I can’t just shove my hand into the forge to heat the wire.
At least not yet. Master has demonstrated that he could resist temperatures to a certain degree, but that's only when he's working with metals with a relatively lower melting point like copper, not the 1,100°C odd flames I’m currently working with. For just a bit of comparison, tin melts around 230°C, so I need to be extremely careful.
Using my tongs, I hold the alloy wire in the flames. I'm so close to the forge that I can barely hear anything over the roar of the flames. Master is talking to Brother and Sandra, probably explaining what I'm doing. But again, I don’t have the leisure to listen in on their conversation; I stare into the forge, not taking my eyes off the metal for a second.
If I were a normal person back on earth, this amount of light radiation alone probably would’ve blinded me, but with a Senses stat of 62, my eyes aren’t that weak.
I’m waiting for the perfect moment to remove the wire. I need the tip to be just hot enough to melt properly. If I leave it in too long, my material will drip into the flames, but if I pull it out too soon, I won’t be able to solder anything with it, leaving me with very little margin for error.
Yanking my tongs from the forge, I twist in place and bring the glowing wire over to my arrow shaft I have fastened to my anvil. With the speed and precision of a robot, I drag the molten wire across one of the grooves before setting my tongs and alloy wire over the edge of the forge. The wire needs to remain hot, but I don’t put it so far into the flames that it will melt.
Now that my hands are free, I grab one of the prepared feathers nearby and carefully position it into the rapidly cooling metal. I hold the feather in place until Sense Mana confirms that the feather has adequately bonded with the arrow shaft. Like all joints, the two mana structures don't match up perfectly. Still, the mana conductivity between the two remains high thanks to the mithril empowered metal I used for the filler metal.
If I could get the mana networks to bond better, that would increase the quality of the arrows by another degree. But how do I go about doing that?
Mana networks form naturally in everything, but they aren’t random. All plants and animals, including humans, form mana networks that conform to their body structure- i.e., the body and limbs.
Inanimate objects are slightly different and more like storage containers. Their mana usually pools in one point and evenly radiates out from there; it's because metals hold their mana in this way that I can see when they have microfractures in them. Because microfractures are essentially small voids in the material’s structure, the mana can’t cleanly penetrate them, creating distinct mana currents in the material.
To increase the arrow’s mana conductivity further, I would need to connect the mana network of the fechin feather I attached to the shaft, through the steel alloy, and into the shaft itself.
How would I go about connecting three separate mana networks? Mana bleeds from one to the other due to proximity, but none of the three are welded together like the dellinium arrowhead is to the arrow shaft.
I'll have to think about it going further, but I need to finish this arrow for now, so I shift back to my tongs in the forge.
Again, I wait for the metal to heat up before doing everything again. Then, ten minutes later, my arrow is fully fletched after a third pass.
Taking a step back, I look over the completed arrow. Everything looks good, the arrowhead still needs to be sharpened, but the fletching is on tight, the shaft is straight as... well as an arrow. Overall, some of my best work.
Unclamping the arrow from my anvil, I make my way over to my workbench, where a wooden rack waits for me. I set the arrow down next to the other three I had already completed for the day. The change is minute, but from the bottom up, you can see how the fletching on each of the arrows is getting better. The first one I completed has excess filler metal I’ll need to grind away, but that’s the worst of them. With each one I fletch, the technique I'm using becomes more like second nature to me. It’s a good thing too, because I still have five more to go.
I initially thought I only had enough dellinium for eight more arrows after making the original one, but after working the metal a bit, I realized I could scrounge up enough material to make it nine. It was good to set aside enough kaglese and mithril for ten arrows instead of eight just in case I messed up on something.
I'm almost halfway done.
But before I start on the fifth arrow, I turn to the four people watching me from the benches.
Brother is awkwardly sitting next to Tabitha, while Master has graciously sat up to make room for a pregnant Sandra. For once, Tabitha isn't looking to me for a battle; instead, she's intrigued by her bench mate. I’m sure Tabitha has seen my family around the village, but either because she’s respecting my wishes to not interfere with them, or whether she just doesn’t care, Tabitha has kept her distance from them. Now that I think about it, this is the first time she’s met a member of my family. Richard, for his part, is trying to put up a courteous smile, but that's hard to do with someone like Tabitha staring you down.
“So, you’re not as strong as your sister?” I hear Tabitha bluntly ask my brother as I walk over to them.
“Sadly, no,” Richard responds with a strained look. “I was a physical build when I started my apprenticeship, but I switched focuses after I started apprenticing to be a foreman.”
Tabitha nods in understanding but continues to look over Brother's large frame. He inherited our father’s height, much like I did, but maybe because he's a boy, Richard looks a lot bulkier than I. I bet she has already asked him to spar with her.
Sandra smiles at Brother as he explains himself to the battle junkie, while Master looks happy Tabitha isn’t bothering him for a change.
“Sandra!” I happily call out as I near them.
I open my arms for a friendly hug, even going as far as dropping Mana Skin, only to see Sandra’s face scrunch up. “Whoa there,” she holds her hands out in front of her, keeping me at a distance.
Shit, is she still mad at me? “I’m sorry,” I quickly apologize, stepping back.
Sandra’s eyes widen at me, seeing the hurt look on my face. “No, not that,” she quickly says. “You look like you’ve been swimming, and I can smell you from here.”
Sandra moves to pinch the bridge of her nose as I look down. She's right; not only do I have pit stains, but my shirt’s collar is entirely soaked. I didn’t feel it when I was next to the forge, but I’ve worked up quite the sweat, haven’t I?
Now that I’ve dropped Mana Skin, I can feel the spring breeze as it catches my wet clothing. Of course, my stats keep me from feeling cold, but the wind does send a slight shiver up my spine and give me goosebumps.
“Sorry,” I apologize again, this time about the smell. “Mana Skin protects me from the temperature of the forge, but the heat that does get through does a number on me. I didn't even notice." I don't mention that I can smell myself now that I'm getting a breath of fresh air. It would be nice to use my magic to clean myself, but staying next to the forge for so long eats away at Mana Skin and, in turn, my mana supply. If I want to finish the arrows today, I’ll need all of my mana to do so.
“Oh, stop. I should be the one apologizing for brushing you off like that. You just caught me off guard, is all." Sandra's smile is strained, but her words make me feel better.
“I guess we’re both at fault then,” I nervously chuckle, not sure if Sandra was still mad at me or not. “I’m just happy you came; Master and Tabitha don’t make good conversation partners.”
“Hey!” Master snaps, while Tabitha doesn’t look perturbed by my statement in the least.
“I’ve been busy, practicing my magic… and thinking over things.” Sandra fidgets in place.
“Really, so have I,” I say with a little too much enthusiasm.
“You did?” Sandra seems initially surprised, but that quickly melts away into a questioning look. “What were you thinking about?”
Now it’s my turn to fidget in place. “Just about how I didn’t notice your feelings recently. I've been focusing on myself and I…."
"Let me stop you there," Sandra cuts in as I was stumbling over what to say next. "You didn't do anything wrong. I was the jealous one."
“What?” I ask, more on reflex rather than not understanding what Sandra was saying. It only hit me yesterday that she was feeling left out. Some friend I am. “But I did. I was so caught up in our success and moving forward that I forgot about you.”
“No, it was me who couldn’t help you anymore. You’ve done so much for me, and I can't pay you back like I wanted to.”
There is a long pause where Sandra and I just stare at each other, both of us absorbing what the other said. It then dawned on both of us that, at the core of our worries, we were both worried about what we had to offer to the other. But, unfortunately, that isn't how a friendship works.
“I’m busy the rest of today,” I motion over to the still roaring forge and my equipment. "But we’re still getting together tomorrow, right?” I hesitantly ask.
“I would love to,” Sandra beams at me.
I can’t keep a big smile from growing on my face. “Wonderful! I have some notes I would love to talk to you about if you’d help me.”
“It would be my pleasure,” Sandra replies as she gets a look of inspiration. “Only so long as you let me teach you about Drey and what it’s like outside the village,” she stipulates.
“About Drey; why?” I cock my head to the side.
"I want to repay you any way I can,” she confidently states. “Even if it’s only teaching you what’s considered normal outside the village.” Sandra pauses for a second before her expression hardens. “Also, I want to form a contract with you.”
This time I physically flinch back in surprise; what kind of contract would Sandra need to sign with me? Sandra has heard about my history with contracts in great detail; she even knows that they one-sidedly benefit me, to a certain degree. “I don’t understand?”
A fire ignites in Sandra’s eyes, and they light up as she explains. “I want to sign a contract with you that states I’ll pay you or your family back for what you’ve done for me, the knowledge you've freely given me, as well as the gold you’re spending to get me the materials I need, all of it.”
“You don’t owe me anything,” I try to say, but Sandra softly shakes her head back and forth.
“I know you think that; you're a good friend. But, the contract isn't for you, it's for me. Please?"
“How am I supposed to say no to that look," I grumble under my breath. “If you really feel the need to, I guess I have the skills for it,” I reluctantly agree.
“Thank you!” Sandra shouts and wraps me in a hug, undeterred by my stank.
“I thought I was smelly,” I joke as I return her hug.
“Don’t ruin it,” Sandra quietly snips in an even tone that was honestly a little scary. Her Mom skill level must still be rising. “I’ll use magic when I get home to clean myself.”
We separate, but we're still smiling and holding hands as friends do.
Then there’s clapping off to the side. Sandra and I turn to see Richard sitting on the bench next to Tabitha, clapping with a shit-eating grin plastered on his smug face. “Yes, the two of you are best friends, tears all around. I never saw this happening,” he remarks sarcastically.
I frown in displeasure to Richard’s enjoyment, but it only takes one look from Sandra for him to pause mid-clap immediately and second guess his actions. Sometimes Richard could be so stupid.
*Cough* Richard clears his throat, looking a lot less confident than he was a second ago. “Anyhow, it’s great that the two of you made up. Honestly, I'm happy for you," he stresses his words more towards Sandra than me. “But I actually had a reason to come here today.”
Huh, and here I figured he was just tagging along with Sandra as he always does on his time off.
Richard reaches to the side of the bench, where he grabs a tube that looks like it would hold a map or some sort of large document. “I actually came to speak with both of you,” he turns and looks at Master Del.
“Oh?” Master raises an eyebrow. Whatever Richard has, it doesn’t look like he discussed it with Master while I was working. Richard already proved himself with the village armory, so I’m curious what he’s designed now.
“I call it the villages shield," Richard proclaims as he opens up the container and unfurls a large piece of parchment for all to see.
(I'm not talented in Paint to make an actual blueprint, but I did make this map of the village along with Richard’s proposed wall. I highlighted a few of the key buildings in the village as well. I hope you like it.)
The parchment is a map of the village and its fields, and surrounding everything is a-.
“You want to build a wall,” I state the obvious. I have a little knowledge of reading blueprints, so I can tell what my brother designed at a quick glance.
“That’s right, just like Drey has.”
“Drey’s walls are huge,” I point out.
“Not that big, but something more manageable, yes.”
I glance at Master, and we share a knowing look. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why brother came to speak to us. "What do you need?" I ask, fearing Richard's answer.
"A lot," is all Brother responds with.
“I think that’s putting it lightly.” Looking at his notes drawn on the blueprints, I start comprehending the extent of what Richard has planned.
The wall looks like it was designed to be built in multiple stages, and it could be argued we would need to supply items at each. The finished product would be a fifteen-foot wall surrounding the village with two gates on either end. I frown when I notice the wall would cut off the quickest way to Del’s clearing. You would need to leave the front gate and loop around.
My frown deepens when I start calculating the material the wall would require. Like any good medieval wall, Richard designed it to be made from stone and plaster, which must be mined from Master's quarry. To build such a structure, a person would need to mine tens of thousands of cubic feet of stone. I think Brother might have gone overboard with his design, even including stats; it would take years to build such a wall.
“Does Camden know what you have planned?” I can’t help but look up and ask the designer of such a monstrosity.
Richard chuckles at my skepticism. "He had the same look you did at first, but he agreed."
Richard motions down at the blueprint with his eyes. "I'm going to start small, build the section of the wall that leads out of town first.”
“Not the back part by the fields?” I note.
The excitement dims in Richard’s eyes a bit as he sends a glance at Tabitha. "At first, I thought about starting in the back, better protection from the forest and all that, but after Pacore showed up.”
Richard doesn't say the rest, but we all know what he's talking about. Everyone in the village was a bit traumatized when Pacore marched the platoon of soldiers to the front of our village. I can only shudder at the thought of what could've happened if they weren't friendly.
We were more likely to be attacked by goblins or farkas in the near future, but a wall in the front of the village would probably make everyone feel safer, if only mentally.
Now I see why Richard wants to start in the front of the village, but the area he plans to cover. Richard’s plans propose we clear out more of the forest and build a reasonable distance away from everybody's homes. I guess it’s for when the village expands in the future, but damn that’s a lot of space.
“You realize how long this will take, right?” I ask my brother.
“It will be a project,” he nods in understanding. “But when the village needed to, it expanded almost as much when the magic beasts attacked, didn’t it? I talked with Salus about it, and he agrees, if we get the same people who helped with the forest expansion, we could start getting a wall up in a few weeks!”
The longer Brother talks about his plans, the more the excitement returns to his face. But after his earlier comments about Sandra and me, I feel it's only fitting to toss some water on his burning passion. "If Master and I agree to help you, that is,” I flatly tell him.
All jokes aside, helping with the wall would be a huge commitment. Even if Master and I don’t help build the thing, it would still be us that would have to mine the stone for the wall. Then the fittings for the gates had to be made, and a strong wall wasn’t just built from stone either. Huge nails to hold everything together were required, along with this world's equivalent of rebar. And don’t get me started on the tools we’d need to make. Unless Brother brought a bunch of stone carving equipment with him, we’d have to make that too.
“I don’t think I can agree to this.” Richard knew my last jab was just me fooling with him, but now that I specifically said I wouldn’t help him, he's no longer smiling. “I don’t know how long I’ll still be in the village,” I remind him. “Once I leave, Master would need to handle everything on his own. I can’t agree to that," I flat-out tell him.
Richard's face scrunches up, and you could see the wheels turning in his head. He’s probably trying to think of what he could say to convince me, but I’m not the one he needs to convince. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Del staring at Brother’s blueprint; it's up to him if we help.
“What about me?” Master Del finally speaks up, startling Brother out of his thoughts.
“What about the path that leads to my house?” Master points to the trail that leads to his clearing and how it indicates a wall would be built there.
“Oh,” Richard appears to understand what Master is asking about, but I highly doubt it. "That would be the very last section of wall to be built; the stone needs to come from your quarry after all."
I was right; Richard didn't understand.
“I get that,” Master growls at my brother. “I mean, what about when people need to come to me for something; are you going to make them walk even farther?”
“Oh, that!” Richard exclaims.
“Yes, that!” Master snaps.
"I just figured you'd move into the village after the wall was done," Richard matter-of-factly tells Master, stunning both of us.
“And why in Tarrow’s forge would I do that!?" It's been a while since I heard Master swear to the god of earth and nature.
“Well…,” Richard hesitates to answer, choosing to scratch the back of his head while looking off to the side. When he does give his answer, it leaves Master’s mouth wide open. “I figured because everyone in the village knows about you now, there was no reason to live out in the middle of nowhere.”
“What… what do they know about me?” Master stutters at first but still manages to send a sharp look at Brother.
“They know,” Brother cryptically responds with only those two words like Master should know what he meant, infuriating him more. Not a wise decision considering Richard needs his help to make his wall a reality.
In a bout of clarity, Richard realizes that his answers were only making Master more enraged, so he bites the bullet and spits out rapidly, "Everyone in the village knows you can talk perfectly fine."
Silence hung in the air, but I let out a breath I didn't realize I was holding in. Master Del's use of vocabulary wasn't anything important in terms of secrets.
Master must agree too, because I see most of the tension drain out of his face. "Is that so," he blandly remarks.
“Yeah, Salus and Markus have been telling everybody. Plus, everyone in the village saw you stand up to Scholl. Word is out that you aren’t as mean as everybody thought you were.”
I have to suppress a giggle at that, but Richard makes a good point. Del spent years crafting his grouchy Stone kin appearance; without that, does he really need to live out in the forest? He wouldn't need to move for a few years while the wall was being built, and if I'm honest with myself, I'm a little worried about what will happen when I leave. Since I became Del’s apprentice, he’s opened up a lot, and I think it would be good for him to be around more people, especially if everyone realizes what a great person he is.
"What makes you think I would want to leave my clearing?" Master says that, but I can tell he's thinking about it. If the village is expanded like in Richard’s planes, there would be more than enough room to fit all of Master’s equipment and then some.
“You wouldn’t have to make a decision now,” I point out to Master. “You wouldn’t need to move for a few years, and if you decide you don’t want to, Richard could just add a small gate in the wall.”
“That would compromise security,” Richard remarks, but he shuts up when I scowl at him. Honestly, I'm trying to help him here. Master takes forever to convince of anything; we just need to sow the idea now and let it grow over time.
“I’ll think about it,” Master huffs. Usually, when he says that he's brushing somebody off, but something tells me that's not the case this time.
"Does that mean you'll agree to help with the wall?" Richard doesn't miss the conversation turning in his favor and presses Master for an answer.
Del doesn’t immediately agree, making eye contact with me instead. He doesn't need to say anything to understand that he's asking for my opinion.
I only need nod once to convey I think a wall is a good idea. Despite all the work it would take, a fifteen-foot wall would alleviate a lot of my fears. Moreover, after I left, I would sleep better at night knowing my friends and family were safe behind such a wall.
My wordless consent is all Master needs before he turns back to Brother. “Alright, we will help you.”
“Yes!” Brother shouts, looking ready to jump for joy.
"But only with mining the materials and any smithing you need doing," Master quickly reigns in Brother's enthusiasm, but not by much.
“That’s fine,” Richard smiles at Del. I should talk to him later about his relationship with Master. When I leave, I don’t want him to revert to his old ways, and even if we joke a lot, I know Richard's personality; he'd be a good conversation partner for Master. If he agrees to look after him, that would be another thing I wouldn’t need to worry about.
"Good; now, if you've finished, leave me alone so I can take a nap.” Master looks away from Brother like he always does to hide his emotions.
Master probably isn’t even going to go to sleep. Before Richard and Sandra showed up, he watched me work like a hawk.
“Oh, Shit! My work!” I exclaim, using Flash step to run over to the forge. “Crap,” I swear aloud again when I see the flames inside or lack thereof. With all the emotional talk, I forgot about maintaining the fire; it'll take forever to get the temperature back up to what I need it to be.
“Need to pay attention more,” Master comments from his bench as I furiously work the bellows and add more charcoal and blacksmithing logs to the fire. He makes it sound like he also didn’t forget, but if he didn't, Master would've warned me before the flames dimmed this much. He knows how important working on the arrows is to me.
“Is everything ok?” Sandra asks worriedly, concerned that our conversation might have ruined my work.
“It’s fine,” I sigh. “It will just take some extra time to stoke the fire,” I reassure her.
“In that case, we better get going,” Richard wraps moves next to Sandra and protectively wraps his arm around her.
“See you tomorrow?”
"You bet," I tell Sandra.
I keep one eye on my friend and Brother as they move to leave the clearing and the other on my steadily growing fire.
I was not prepared for all this today, but I’m happy they showed up in the end. Sandra alleviated most of my fears regarding our friendship, and Richard's wall will be a massive boon to the village, even if I'll need to somehow work mining for stone into my schedule.
But that’s all for after I finish these arrows. I need to focus again and get back into the right headspace to forge. Once I do that, everything will just come naturally as it always has.