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With a smile on my face, I watched as Tabitha reluctantly unclasped her shiny metal breastplate. Her fingers tightly gripped onto it, even as she offered it up to Sandra.

 

Sandra grunted as she tried to pry the armor out of Tabitha's hands, but only after the hesitant knight finally decided to release her death grip could Sandra finally properly get her hands on it.

 

Sandra’s smile mirrored my own as she brought the armor over to my workbench, where she would study it closer.

 

While Sandra looked like she was on cloud nine, Tabitha was the opposite. Tabitha, the ever-stoic picture of a knight in armor, looked like her heart was ripped out of her chest. She scanned the tree line as her hand dropped to her sword. But the invisible monsters she was picturing never attacked.

 

My smile faltered seeing her like that. While it was funny for the first few seconds, I can’t help but feel like an asshole smiling at the uncomfortable woman. Something had to have happened to her for Tabitha to react like that every time she takes off her armor. Something that went beyond feeling exposed, and it was wrong of me to laugh at her.

 

Tabitha was an extremely dangerous woman, with or without her armor on. So, imaging what it would take to give her such a complex sent a shiver up my spine. I'd ask her if I didn’t think she would brush me off.

 

It would be easier if she were more open. But, of course, knowing Tabitha, she won’t say anything unless I ask, but would that be right of me to step into her business like that?

 

Sandra didn’t notice the discomfort Tabitha was under; she only had eyes for the armor in her hands. And I could understand; Tabitha's breastplate was amazing to look at. Whatever alloy it was made from was top-notch and is probably just as challenging to work as dellinium, maybe even more so. Tabitha’s breastplate conducted mana almost as well as mithril did but didn’t have its weaknesses when it came to defense.

 

But though I appreciate the metal and the craftsmanship that went into the armor, Sandra only cared about one part of it. The enchantments.

 

Sandra can't sense mana as I can, but that hasn't stopped her from trying to unravel its mysteries all the same. For example, after Tabitha allowed us to see her breastplate for the first time, the first thing Sandra did was ask Master to craft her a simple magnifying glass.

 

Master isn't a skilled glassblower by any means, so the magnifying glass came out tinted green due to the metals in it, but that surprisingly helped. The tinted glass helped with the glare cast on the metal from the glowing runes and made them easier to see. Of course, she could still only see the surface level of the enchantments, but we each have to start somewhere, and at the rate she was improving, I wouldn't put it past Sandra to figure out how to trace them with mana just like I do.

 

Out of the corner of my eye, while working the bellows and was still able to, I dived a part of my attention to Sandra as she channeled her mana into Tabitha's armor. Of course, I'll have to put all my attention into the dagger once I start working the metal, but until then, I can allow my focus to wander…. to a small degree.

 

Different colored lines ignite across the underside of Tabitha’s armor, the exact spot where it would sit up against her chest as Sandra activates its three enchantments. One enchantment glows a soft blue while the other two are light brown. The enchantments we make with our engraving ink resemble the brown ones, but ours are overall a darker shade. It could be because there is a difference in materials, or it’s equally likely our engraving ink should be a lighter color, and we just don't know it yet.

 

We would know this if the enchantments on Tabitha’s armor matched our own, but sadly they don't. All three enchantments on Tabitha's armor were either tier 3 or above, meaning they're three-dimensional and a significant step above anything we’ve worked with.

 

But that isn’t stopping Sandra from trying to document what each of the enchantments do, and anyway we might be able to copy them. That first part was going well, not so much the second part.

 

This was the seventh time Sandra's looked over Tabitha's armor, and by now, we both had a pretty comprehensive idea of what each of the enchantments did.

 

For example, the blue one is a weight reduction enchantment. When activated, it decreased Tabitha’s armor’s weight by 40%. It was impressive, but even more so when you factored in how much mana it took to keep the enchantment activated.

 

The weight reduction runes only required the tiniest bit of magic to activate because it already had a power source to draw from. Like Pacore’s armor, Tabitha’s armor had a magic gem embedded in it, three of them actually, one for each enchantment. They weren’t as big as the magic stone in Pacore’s armor, but they were still the second largest magic gems I’d ever seen.

 

Each gem was about the size of a large grape, practically dwarfing the rice-grain-sized ones Sandra and I used in our engraving pens. Sandra and I asked Tabitha how long each of her Enchantments could stay active, and she told us it varied between them, but the weight reduction one lasted the longest at eleven and a half hours if she drained it completely.

 

The second enchantment was a more advanced version of the hardening enchantment that we already knew and could stay activated for four hours. But there was the kicker; Tabitha only ever used her enchantments sparingly and seldom at the same time.

 

I asked Tabitha if she used them when we spar, and to my surprise, she did. Recently that is.

 

Once I was able to put up a decent fight, Tabitha said she had started to use her enchantments during our sessions, but not in the way I expected. Tabitha toggles her enchantments on and off.

 

If she’s sitting or standing in place, she doesn’t waste her mana activating them. Instead, Tabitha switches between her weight reduction and defensive rune depending on what she’s doing during a fight. She briefly activates her weight reduction rune to move faster when she moves. When guarding, Tabitha deactivates the weight reduction rune and switches to the defensive one, restoring her armor to its original weight. Thus centering her in place and ensuring her armor won’t take too much damage.

 

Against dexterity builds, she keeps them both activated to keep up with them and make sure any glancing blows don’t damage her gear. Essentially, Tabitha judges her opponent and decides which enchantments she wants to keep activated and when.

 

When we first learned about Tabitha’s fighting style, Sandra and I thought it was impossible to trigger enchantments like Tabitha said she did freely, but that was because neither of us had seen an activation rune before. At least that's what we're calling them.

 

On each of the enchantments after the mana absorbing rune, an extra rune we’d never seen before was added into the structure. With my skills, I guessed what each of the runes did and was amazed by what the new rune type did.

 

It acted as a light switch. You could channel your mana into the enchantment to activate it and continue to channel your mana to maintain it like any other magic tool I've seen. But it had the added effect of keeping the enchantment going, even after you stopped providing your mana, by drawing on the mana in the magic gem.

 

To deactivate the rune and shut off the enchantment, all you had to do was supply it with mana again. With practice, anyone could turn the enchantments on or off in milliseconds.

 

Your everyday magic items didn’t need this feature; that's why I hadn't seen it before. Until this point, all the enchantments I've encountered only needed to be activated for short periods or ran full time using magicite. Tabitha told us most life-saving enchantments were always activated and were designed to work once certain conditions were met. Like the third enchantment on Tabitha’s armor.

 

While the first two enchantments on Tabitha’s armor were meant to be turned on and off periodically, the third enchantment was never meant to do so. We had to ask Tabitha what the third one did because even being able to see the runes and pour our mana into them, neither of us could figure out what the enchantment was meant to do.

 

Even though the third enchantment was always activated, there were no visual signs of it doing anything. When the weight reduction or defensive enchantments were activated, I could see their mana interacting with the meatal they were inscribed on; the third one, nothing. And once Tabitha told us, I understood why.

 

The third enchantment on Tabitha’s armor was a full-body shield. It would only activate once a certain amount of damage was done to her, and her life was at stake. For a high cost, the enchantment would cover her from head to toe in a magic barrier.

 

When Tabitha told us what it did, I joked that it was overpowered until she told us what it would take to activate.

 

She could lose an arm.

 

A leg.

 

And still, the enchantment wouldn’t activate.

 

Only once she was on the cusp of death would it help her.

 

I thought it would conjure something like my Mana Skin to shield her, but my skill would be the equivalent of wearing a piece of paper compared to what Tabitha’s third enchantment covers her in.

 

The enchantment draws out the properties of her breastplate and uses it to create a full-body shield, one so tight she wouldn't be able to move yet strong enough it would be almost impossible to harm her. And that was what it was, a life-saving measure meant only for the final blow.

 

A genuinely frightening enchantment.

 

Sandra had asked Tabitha how long it would hold once activated, but she didn’t know.

 

An hour.

 

Maybe Two?

 

She had never had it activate before. Tabitha said it would’ve activated against the dragon if she had been hit by it, but she was lucky that it never did. Once activated, the enchantment would destroy the armor once it ran out of mana. The enchantment would suck up all that it could to keep running, even the mana in the material it was engraved on. It would stay activated until her armor literally turned to dust.

 

That was why similar enchantments were usually placed on bracelets or other jewelry pieces. Of course, they weren't as strong as the one engraved on Tabitha's armor, but the wearer didn't need to worry as much about it activating and being destroyed.

 

Tabitha wasn’t sure, but Sandra and I speculated that the third enchantment was tier 5. It was made up of over two dozen runes, all of which were incredibly complicated.

 

Then again, we could be wrong. Neither of us has that much experience with higher-tier runes yet, so we can only base things on what we currently know. But even if we learn in the future that it is only a tier 4 rune, it wouldn't change its usefulness in our eyes.

 

If I could, I would replicate it no matter the cost. It would be worth it, guaranteeing my family's safety.

 

I think Sandra understands this too, and that was why she couldn’t keep herself from studying it more. It was like a fruit dangling over the edge of a cliff just out of arms reach.

 

Well, maybe not that close, but that was how we saw it. It was right there, taunting us, daring us to grab it!

 

We still had Tabitha’s other magic items to look at, but they were just as challenging to study. Other than her shield, which was only enchanted to produce a force shield of mana once activated, Tabitha’s other magic items were all jewelry, which were small and hard for Sandra to study.

 

We were surprised to learn that out of all of Tabitha's armor, only Tabitha's shield and breastplate were enchanted, but she made an excellent point neither of us thought of. Tabitha wasn’t a mage.

 

She didn’t have a large mana pool as we did and couldn't afford to be covered head to toe in magic gear. Her current items were already at the cusp of what she could handle without needing to have other people charge her stuff for her. The mana gems did their part, keeping her life-saving treasures activated, but they still burnt through small amounts of mana doing so.

 

Tabitha told us she topped off all her enchantments every night, ensuring they were always at 100%. Besides her shield and breastplate, she had three pieces of enchanted jewelry. First, an amulet that was designed to help her if she was poisoned. She had a ring on her right hand that could protect her from severe temperatures, like, from a giant fireball or frost spell. And on her left arm, she had a bracelet; it was similar to the gloves Anastasia used, only slightly less powerful and more meant for general fatigue.

 

Each had a condition programmed in to keep them from activating willy-nilly. Like her breastplate, low-tier spells and poisons wouldn't trigger her magic items, which from a design standpoint was a good thing. If her ring activated every time someone threw a small fireball at her, Tabitha's gear would be rendered useless way too quickly. Besides, it would take more than something like that to hurt someone with Tabitha’s level.

 

Shaking my head, I clear my thoughts, as my ingot was almost ready. It was exciting thinking about everything we've learned regarding enchanting, but it was time to focus, and I couldn't divide my attention any longer. I could help Sandra decipher the runes once I'm done with my work, as soon as I have everything ready for Kervin and my trip into the forest. Then I could take a small break before I go.

 

With that decided, I grab my tongs and reach into the forge to remove my glowing ingot. It wasn’t that far off from its melting point, but that’s how I needed it.

 

Switching over to my anvil, I had to be careful as I juggled my tools. First, I checked the ingot's internal mana structure to see if it shifted during the heating process. It did, but only by a little. Next, I flip the bar over and give it a few test strokes to see how it moves.

 

I’ve gotten used to working with kaglese alloys, but you can never be too sure. Forging is difficult as it is, and even more so for me because I need to do it in a way that doesn't ruin the material's mana conductivity.

 

I spend what feels like hours shifting the ingot to and from my forge, working it so everything lines up perfectly. Then the real fun begins.

 

I draw out the part of the ingot that will be the blade, but only a little bit. Then, I grab one of the tools I specifically made for this job, a long thin steel cone, even smaller than a pencil. Using my hammer, I carefully drive it into the block of metal, creating the small cavity I need in the spine of the dagger. The dagger I'm making is thicker than what I'd usually make, but that’s because I need it to stay strong despite the void in the spine.

 

I have to make sure there isn't a single flaw in my metal; if there is, it would only take one lousy strike for the blade to shatter. But unfortunately, I spot two such imperfections that I have to take care of before moving on, doing just that.

 

The world around me drifts away as I sink deeper and deeper into my work. While using Sense Mana on my budding dagger, I sense Tabitha and Sandra standing next to one another by my workbench, but I don't let their conversation distract me from what I'm doing.

 

The forge's fire reaches through Mana Skin and makes me sweat as I continually use Precise Strike. This dagger will be all precision, so my other two skills were worthless here.

 

I work the dagger's blade until it's perfect; it must be before moving on.

 

In the end, I couldn't make the dagger in two parts as Sandra suggested. That said, making the dagger in stages did end up being the best way to go about this.

 

I would forge the blade of the dagger first, then remove the cone currently in its spine and let the dagger’s blade cool a bit. I wouldn’t quench it yet, but I didn’t want the blade to move as easily as it currently was.

 

Then, once the blade was completed, I would use the second form I made to create the dagger’s handle.

 

Unlike the blade where I could drive my mold into the metal, I had to be more careful with the handle. If I moved too quickly or brought my hammer down in the wrong spot, I could cut off the handle from the shaft running down the dagger’s spine. Doing so would almost certainly ruin the dagger, and I'd have to melt it down and start all over.

 

So, I slowly mold the handle into what I need, taking my time.

 

Hours later, after a lot of hard work, I finally had something to be proud of. But I wasn’t done yet.

 

I examine it for any flaws and go over my mostly completed work with a fine-tooth comb. I still needed to make the cap that would screw into the daggers pommel, wrap the handle, and most importantly, do the enchanting part.

 

Once I was sure there wasn't anything structurally wrong with it, I placed my dagger back into the forge, just long enough for me to grab my enchanting pen and heat it back up again. Pulling my dagger out of the fire, I take a deep breath and settle my emotions. The next part was arguably the hardest.

 

I practiced what I was about to do multiple times, and it worked most of them, but that didn’t stop me from second-guessing myself.

 

Picking up my engraving pen, I start channeling my mana into it. The tip of my pen glows, but no ink comes out of the reservoir; it is empty.

 

I bring my pen down to the still glowing metal of the dagger and stop just before I touch its surface. If I wasn’t channeling mana into my pen, the heat radiating off it might melt my pen being made out of pure mithril.

 

Using my pen to focus my mana, I activate Magic Threads. A tiny hair-like thread of mana snakes its way from the tip of my pen and into the glowing dagger. I push my mana through the metal, forcing it to part like a tiny drill.

 

I came up with this while Sandra, Master, and I were discussing ways I could put small holes in my blade without compromising its structure. We bounced around a few ideas, but Master shot them all down, saying any tool we would use would make too big a hole and ruin the blade itself.

 

I thought about my Magic Threads skill in a stroke of genius and remembered how I would use them to burrow into the earth below me and anchor me in place. It works by having my mana snake into the ground and fuse with the mana naturally there, but what if I didn't let it fuse? What would happen if I focused on keeping my mana together and not spreading it out?

 

What I got from my experiments were magic threads that could physically burry through the dirt. The new threads weren’t as stable as my other ones and took a long time to push through the harder stuff, but with Sense Mana, I could see that they were tunneling through the ground and left a void when I retracted them.

 

Using my engraving pen without ink was Sandra’s idea. She thought it would help me focus my mana into a small but powerful thread capable of digging into hot metal.

 

It wasn’t easy forcing my mana into the dagger; my mana naturally wanted to break up and spread, but I couldn't let that happen.

 

Slowly, less than a millimeter at a time, I pushed my mana into the metal. I didn’t take my eyes off my mana as it pushed forward, not even blinking. I pushed until I felt it pierce into the chamber in the dagger’s spine.

 

I wanted to celebrate my success, but I wasn’t done yet. That was only one opening; I needed to make eleven more, six on each side of the double-bladed dagger.

 

This was going to take a while.

 

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A note from kosnik4

3,500 words.

 

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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