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The fire in the forge looked brighter than usual compared to the first rays of sunshine finally washing over me. The forest around the clearing was quiet, making the blazing fire sound much louder than usual.

 

The sun had only crested the horizon twenty minutes ago, and the world around me was still trying to shake off the shackles of night.

 

Letting out a long yawn, I work the bellows, supplying the fire with the much-needed oxygen it craved.

 

I was alone at the moment, and honestly, the unusual silence of my surroundings was a bit nerve-racking. I’d gotten used to always having someone in the clearing with me, and when I was alone, it always felt like I was on edge. It may be a bad habit, but I regularly lose myself in my work. And with no one else there to watch my back, I couldn't do that.

 

Master had already greeted me when I arrived an hour ago to start my prepping, but he had already left for the day. He had walked out of the clearing with a frown, yet he still went to the mine. For me.

 

The last two weeks had been hectic for both of us. You could say we were burning our candles at both ends, and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of us got burned soon. A scary thought considering we work with fire. But hopefully, it will be worth it in the end.

 

So long as I don’t screw up on what matters.

 

I have so much to do and very little time to do it. Tabitha received a letter from Pacore three days after the new year’s festival, letting her know peace talks with Olebert were about to commence. It was good news for the village and would bring much-needed peace and stability to the region, but for me, it was like a countdown had begun to tick down in the back of my mind.

 

For all I knew, Olebert could roll over for Pacore just as they did with Drey, and I'd be heading for Scholl any day now. Though considering Tabitha hasn’t received another letter saying as such, I’m working off the assumption that isn’t happening just yet. That said, I only have a few months to half a year max before Pacore comes for me. And there was still so much to do.

 

I didn't just feel the time crunch, and even Master has kicked it into high gear. He grumbles a lot, but I can’t overstate how much he’s helping me. Between sparring, runic research, forging, magic training, soul training, and taking one day off a week to rest and spend time with my family, I've had little to no time to help Master keep up with mining the stone and iron the village needs.

 

Over the last two weeks, I've only helped him in the mine once, and it ruined my already tight schedule to the point Master insisted I didn’t do it again.

 

But the wall was still being built, and though Master may complain, he wouldn’t go back on his word to help the village. Hence these early days.

 

Village life usually started at dawn, but that didn't cut it for us.

 

Prepping everything I needed to do each day took time, and if I wanted to do my daily exercises, I had to be up earlier than everybody else. Although I have to say, if I didn't have the support of my family, I'm not sure I'd have been able to maintain the pace that I have.

 

Mother and Father have been up with me every morning in solidarity. Mom makes sure I’m up on time by shaking me awake if I accidentally stay in my soul too long, while dad brews a type of tea called Hunter’s Mud. It’s an evil, bitter drink with the consistency of watered-down syrup made from various forest roots and a type of crushed tree bark. The stuff tasted foul, but it kicked harder than a dozen cups of coffee. Witch I needed, considering I'm pretty sure normal coffee wouldn't be able to do much against my current stats.

 

Mom still tries to run with me, but with how early we’re up each morning and her much lower physical stats, she can’t accompany me every day. But, honestly, she's doing better than I expected. I mean, I’ve thought about giving up on my morning routine for more sleep, much less her, but I know if I compromise now, I’ll do so again in the future. And that’s a slippery slope to be on.

 

Master would go to the mines as soon as I arrived in the clearing, and Tabitha wouldn’t show up until she finished her morning routine. I wasn’t aware of it, but much like I stretch and run every morning, Tabitha practiced in the quarry. I didn’t know about her practicing because she’d always be finished by the time I was done with my morning exercises. Master never saw her because he’d never had a reason to go to the quarry that early, and Tabitha would cut through the forest to meet me, so they never saw one another.

 

When I asked Tabitha how long she’d been practicing in the morning, she flatly told me she'd been doing it since she arrived at the village like it wasn't a big deal. She had initially been practicing in the forest, but after I started our sparring sessions, she’s been using the quarry, which is much easier to practice in. I thought it was weird how quickly she became accustomed to sparring there, but now it all makes sense.

 

Once again, I was humbled by Tabitha. I was always a little jealous of her fighting skills and told myself it was just because she's seen more action than me, but I was wrong. Tabitha is amazing as she is, not because she’s gifted but because she works hard and practices four hours a day, all before the sun even rises. And the rest of the time she spends watching over me and patrolling the surrounding forest.

 

She never complains and never neglects her duties.

 

I have to admit, Tabitha is an inspiration.

 

Now only if she were easier to talk to. If she weren't so silent and humble when not talking about Pacore and pointed out how hard she works from the start, I’d might have seen her in a different light sooner, instead of initially thinking she was looking down on me for having what she would consider a peaceful life.

 

While musing about Tabitha, the flames of the forge glow a brilliant orange. The mana in the fire was turning rapidly thanks to the magicite I added in, and I note it’s almost time to add in my ingot.

 

Kervin will be back in a week, and I still need to make a few more weapons before he arrives. Initially, I planned to ration out my kaglese, only using a bit of it every few days, but with the possibility of Pacore showing up whenever, I had to change my plans. So instead of focusing on making armor for the village, I’ve been solely working on the kaglese weapons I planned on selling. When I'm done with those, I'll work on stuff for the armory. Unfortunately, I seriously doubt Kervin will be able to get me any more kaglese, so I'll need something to do after I finish using the last of it.

 

I still have a few more to make over the coming week, but I'm working on something else today. I'm still making a weapon, but it isn't one I'm selling. It's the one I'm giving away.

 

Today I'm going to try making the special dagger for Reel finally. I’ve been putting it off, justifying myself by saying I wasn’t ready yet, but I could only lie to myself for so long. I made the tools I think I’ll need almost seven days ago and have looked over my plans a hundred times since then.

 

The only good thing about my procrastination is that I did a lot of other work in the guise of preparation. I’ve made twelve spears, eight short swords, five long swords, and two decently sized claymores.

 

I mixed in slightly less kaglese into this batch of weapons to stretch my limited supply, but they still came out only slightly inferior to their non-diluted counterparts. I had Tabitha inspect the first one I made, and she said it was fine, so everything should be ok. Even with me using slightly less kaglese than usual, my weapons were still leagues ahead of other similar weapons.

 

I’ll be a nice person and warn Kervin about the slight quality drop so as not to cause him any problems, though I’m sure it won’t matter with Pacore apparently claiming he would buy everything I made.

 

Looking into the fire, I deem it hot enough to put my ingot in. With practiced movements, I use my tongs to place the ingot deep into the flames, next to where the air is pumped in from the bellows, careful not to let it touch the sides of the forge. The forges walls were charred a deep black and were covered in small splotches of iron from yesterday.

 

I haven’t had time to clean the forge in a while, the last time being the day before the new year’s festival. Of course, two and a half weeks isn’t that long when you consider how long people usually go without cleaning their forges, but that further showed how much Master and I have been using it with it looking like it is after such a short amount of time.

 

We've been running the forge daily to the point we briefly considered building another one so we could work on our projects simultaneously. But we decided against it. So on the days, I'm forging, Master mines, while when I'm sparring or working on enchanting with Sandra, he uses it to forge the iron components Brother needs for the wall. Master hasn’t said anything about it, but I'm sure he works on my day off too.

 

A second forge would be helpful in the short term, but it would quickly lose its effectiveness after I left for Scholl. Plus, it isn't exactly easy to build a sound forge. We might be able to throw one up in a day, but it wouldn’t be able to tolerate the flames I need to work on magic metals.

 

Letting out another tired sigh, I work the bellows, shifting the metal every so often to make sure the ingot is evenly heated.

 

I work in silence for twenty minutes until I feel a mana signature move into Mana Sense’s range. Looking up from the glowing metal, I smile and wave at Tabitha, who's walking into the clearing from the path that leads to the quarry.

 

“Good morning,” I call out.

 

“Morning,” she politely nods to me before moving over to the bench Master usually uses.

 

She definitely knows a self-cleaning spell. She's been practicing for hours, yet there wasn't a bit of sweat on her. I haven’t had a chance to see her practice regimen, but I doubt it’s anything less than what she has me do. She should be drenched, not looking like she’d just freshened up.

 

Oh well, with Tabitha here, I can better focus on my work.

 

Turning my attention to the ingot, I continue to work the bellows. The kaglese steel ingot is slow to heat up, and I need it close to a molten state if I’m going to forge Reel’s dagger.

 

Sandra and I have spent a lot of time discussing how I'd pull off my crazy design. Initially, I thought about making both sides of the dagger separately before welding them together. If I did that, I could enchant the inside, which sounded like a good idea on paper.

 

But after some quick testing using regular steel, I had to discard that idea. Welding the two sides worked, but it completely ruined the metal's internal mana structure, and I need the daggers mana to flow correctly to make it work.

 

If the mana didn’t freely flow from the dagger's handle down towards the openings, not only would it weaken the bonded metal, it could cause it to disintegrate if overused.

 

Sandra suggested I instead make the handle and blade separately, but it didn't work out when I tested it again. I tried welding the two pieces together and making a threaded removable handle, but both had the same problem. The seems again were put under considerable stress, and a lot of the mana channeled into the dagger would get bogged down in the handle.

 

If I wanted my design to work, I would need to keep everything in one piece.

 

“Did I miss anything?” Sandra’s voice echoes from the clearing's entrance.

 

“Just in time to watch me fail,” I joke self-deprecatingly as she walks over to me. She spares Tabitha a polite wave but overall ignores her.

 

“Oh, stop,” Sandra rolls her eyes just like my mother does when I say something stupid. “You can make anything.”

 

Her confidence in me brings a smile to my face and takes some of the pressure of success off my shoulders. When I was thinking about how much my parents have been supporting me these last two weeks, I forgot about the rest of my family. My new family. My sister-in-law, Sandra.

 

If my parents have been helping me emotionally, Sandra has been helping me physically. Even on days I say I'll study enchanting with her, I end up focusing on something else more often than not, whether that's practicing my mana Manipulation or sharpening one of the many weapons I've made. While I’ve been doing that, Sandra has been tirelessly throwing herself into runic studies.

 

She’s effectively taken over my workbench, and now that she has an engraving pen of her own, practicing enchanting is all she wants to do. Where once it was me giving her pointers, now it was she who had to take time to explain what she's learned to me.

 

My superior magic manipulation skills help me learn everything she teaches quickly, and I can still draw enchants better than her. Still, it's Sandra who's become the more knowledgeable one when it comes to enchanting. And it shows in our skill growth.

 

LV: 74 Experience: 529,311/ 1,004,619

Health: 2,450/2,450

Stamina 1,584.38/1,666

Mana: 1,030/1,030

Vitality: 245.05

Endurance: 100.19

Strength: 155.09

Dexterity: 155.13

Senses: 62.56

Mind: 65.47

Magic: 103.17

Clarity: 79.12

Status Points: 0

Skills:

Tier 1:

Meditation (LV79), Running (LV78), Blacksmithing (LV75), Hammer Skills (LV68), Axe Skills (LV60), Cleaning (LV53), Mining (LV51), Chanting (LV50), Drawing (LV48), Trading (LV48), Cooking (LV41), Sword Skills (LV40), Dagger Skills (LV34), Acting (LV33), Wood Carving (LV32), Sewing (LV31), Dancing (LV23), Alchemy (LV15), Pugilist Skills (LV9), Spear Skills (LV2)

Tier 2:

Sense Mana (LV79), Double Step (LV65), Charm (LV50), Measurement (LV49), Hammer Arts (LV48), Axe Arts (LV39), Writing (LV32), Intimidating Shout (LV32), Mathematics (LV31), Steady Hands (LV31), Increase Price (LV22), Lower Price (LV20), Sword Arts (LV17), Dagger Arts (LV13), Gourmet (LV7), Marching (LV5), Shout of Valor (LV3),

Tier 3:

Expel Mana (LV63), Mana Manipulation (LV63), Weighted Strike (LV44), Precise Strike (LV43), Double Strike (LV42), Flash Step (LV32), Contract (LV22), Enchanting (LV9)

Tier 4:

Mental Resistance (LV60), Mana Skin (LV58), Inject Mana (LV54), Extract Mana (LV38), Magic Blacksmithing (LV35), Magic Threads (LV21), Air Walk (LV19), Empowered Spell (LV14), Ironclad Agreement (LV8), Appealing Deal (LV3)

Tier 5:

Sense Soul (LV40), Soul Manipulation (LV19)

Tier 6:

Soul Devourer (LV4)

 

Increased Skill Levels

Hammer Skills (LV68) 3,400exp

Wood Carving (LV32) 1,600exp

Dancing (LV22-23) 2,250exp

Pugilist Skills (LV9) 450exp

Hammer Arts (LV48) 4,800exp

Steady Hands (LV31) 3,100exp

Weighted Strike (LV44) 6,600exp

Double Strike (LV42) 6,300exp

Flash Step (LV32) 4,800exp

Enchanting (LV8-9) 2,550exp

Mental Resistance (LV60) 15,000exp

Extract Mana (LV38) 9,500exp

Magic Threads (LV21) 5,250exp

Air Walk (LV19) 4,750exp

Soul Manipulation (LV18-19) 18,500exp

 

Skill Experience: 88,850exp

Crafting Experience: 27,841exp

Fighting Experience: 9,688exp

 

Total experience Gained: 126,379exp

 

That was the smallest amount of experience I’ve seen in a while. Sure, a few of my more important skills leveled up, but not in the way I expected after pushing myself so hard.

 

The massive amount of experience I'm used to getting from my skills has started to plateau. Other than Dancing, all the lower-tier skills that I use on a daily basis have reached the point that they don't quickly level. And my higher tier 3 and above skills aren’t any better.

 

Every night over the past two weeks, I've been working nonstop in my soul, spending what felt like months in there. And all I have to show from it was three levels.

 

Sure, Mental Resistance finally reached level 60 after what felt like forever, but I honestly have no idea how I’m supposed to push it or Sense Soul past their bottlenecks.

 

And it's not like I haven't noticed my other lesser-used skills falling further to the wayside.

 

Seeing constant growth has always done wonders for my motivation, but what happens if that stops? Will I be able to continue as I am? I’m not sure….

 

Shaking my head, I try to remember why I pulled up my status page in the first place. Then, scanning my skills, I’m reminded of where my train of thought was when my eyes fall on Enchanting.

 

Enchanting only leveled twice and hasn't even reached level 10 yet, while Sandra celebrated her skill reaching level 14 the other day. And I don't doubt that she won't stop improving any time soon. Glancing at my workbench, the multiple experiments she has scattered on it are proof enough of that.

 

She has pieces of a clay pot, bits of cloth, and chunks of leather scattered all over the place, each with various runes doodled on them. While I’ve focused mainly on seeing how runes hold up on wood and metal, Sandra has expanded her testing to other materials. A fact I’m still kicking myself over for forgetting about.

 

Then there was our runic encyclopedia, a journal Sandra had me transcribe with my Drawing skill to document the various runes we’ve discovered. A journal she was working on expanding.

 

“Good morning, Lady Tabitha,” Sandra saunters to the warry-looking knight.

 

“No.”

 

“I haven’t even asked anything yet,” Sandra playfully tilts her head to her side and plays innocent.

 

"I know what you're going to ask," Tabitha's eyes narrow. "You're going to ask for my armor again."

 

Sandra has the gal to look offended but doesn't back down, even when Tabitha releases a hint of killing intent.

 

“I was just wishing you a good morning." Sandra doesn't flinch under Tabitha's pressure, having become used to it the last couple of days.

 

If Tabitha released her full killing intent, she would undoubtedly scare Sandra away or make her faint, but Tabitha would never chance that on the pregnant Sandra.

 

“But now that you mentioned it,” Sandra grins down at Tabitha, “I would appreciate seeing your armor one more time.”

 

Tabitha’s face scrunches up like she’d just eaten something bitter, and she struggles for a response.

 

Sandra, a girl less than half Tabitha’s age and level, had her expertly backed into a corner. It was only a matter of time until she got what she wanted. Just as she always did.

 

Maybe I’ve been subconsciously looking down on my friend? I know I’m spreading myself thin, and it only makes sense someone with Sandra’s drive would overtake me in a field they’re dedicating most of their time to.

 

Is this what she feels like?

 

I don’t like it!

 

Bringing my hands up to my face, I lower Mana Skin for a moment and feel the full force of my forge. A brief slapping sound overtakes the roar of the fire, drawing both Tabitha and Sandra's attention.

 

“You ok, Aaliyah?" My friend asks with concern in her eyes, seeing how I just slapped myself

 

My cheeks sting as I drop my hands and reactivate Mana Skin. “Never better,” I answer with a fake sense of confidence.

 

"Ok…." Sandra hesitantly says before turning her attention back to Tabitha.

 

If I have time to feel jealousy, I have time to work harder. If I can’t support my friend with knowledge, I'll support her with supplies by selling my work.

 

It was time to stop moping and make a dagger.

 

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A note from kosnik4

3,400 words.

 

Short chapter, but that's because I'm trying a different writing schedule. Instead of stressing myself out over hitting my 5,000-word limit, I decided to do somewhat shorter chapters but release them more frequently. That way, I get back into the habit of writing every day.

 

So part two of this chapter will be out Monday.

 

I hope you enjoyed it, and as always, stay safe.


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kosnik4

Bio: Just love a good story.

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