Following our unanticipated journey to the mercantile district, we returned to the familiarity of Kyda's workshop. The strange air of the place seemed slightly less alien to me now. Kyda, previously the enigmatic new master of my fate, had transformed before my eyes into a formal mentor. This change came unnervingly quickly but was no less compelling. The frosty, detached figure that had plucked me from the jaws of a menial existence was now my instructor, demanding my attention and focus in a way that was strangely invigorating.

I had to admit, though, a large part of this shift in perspective was probably my own projection. For once, I wasn't being treated as a refugee or menial laborer, but a student. It was a role that felt far more dignified, and I found myself relishing the newfound feeling of respect – even if that was also projection. I was acutely aware that I was assigning these feelings to Kyda - who, for all her cold demeanor, didn't seem the type to fuss about such trappings. But recognizing my own self-deception didn't make it any less comforting. I was still trying to make sense of this new life, after all. Being a student, in this strange and unnerving circumstance, was an improvement I was more than willing to embrace.

As the afternoon transitioned into evening, my mind was filled with concepts and ideas I'd never dared to consider. Kyda introduced me to methods of embedding the essence of living beings into crafted objects, strange and unorthodox techniques that held a bizarre logic in their application. It felt as if I had been given a key to a different world, a world that operated on rules as perplexing as they were consistent.

Kyda explained the strengths and limitations of these techniques with an almost detached clarity, and I was taken aback by the breadth and depth of both. Magic, it seemed, was not the all-encompassing solution I'd imagined. It came with its fair share of trials and tribulations. To Kyda, the art was akin to walking on a tightrope—missteps could lead to disastrous outcomes.

For instance, simply carving mystical runes onto an object and dousing it with the blood of a powerful creature wasn't enough, despite what her mysterious undertones might lead one to assume.

"You might think it's just a matter of some etching and a bit of blood," Kyda said, a rare hint of amusement playing on her lips. Her amusement seemed to follow incorrect assumptions and passing faults of ‘most people’. "But if it was that easy, everybody would be doing it."

Essence, she explained, wasn't a straightforward additive. It held a degree of control and influence, even after death. This essence had to be meticulously matched with the appropriate materials, and guided with precise techniques to craft an object that would retain its form, character, and potentially, grow in power.

As I listened, my head tilted, trying to wrap my mind around the concepts, I couldn't help but ask, "So it's like... the essence continues to shape the piece, even after it's finished?"

The stillness of the workshop was broken by the soft clinking of metal as Kyda expertly manipulated the raw materials before us. Her concentration was almost palpable, but her words never faltered as she continued to weave the intricate tapestry of her craft.

"See, Claire," she said, her voice steady despite the rhythm of her work, "even when a piece is complete, its journey is not. It evolves, constantly."

I frowned at her words, intrigued yet utterly puzzled. Evolution was a concept I associated with living organisms, not with inanimate objects.

"Each creation can grow," Kyda continued, oblivious to my confusion, or perhaps simply choosing to ignore it. "It can develop in both power and character, its growth directed by the essence it houses."

She paused her work momentarily, casting me a glance that was laden with both anticipation and challenge. "Think of it as individuality. The essence—the life force of the creature—it leaves its indelible mark on the piece, guiding its evolution."

There was a moment of silence as I tried to absorb her words. It was hard to imagine a crafted object as something 'living', evolving. It felt... odd.

"As if each piece is not just an object," Kyda concluded, her hands once again busy on her work, "but a living entity, subtly morphing and changing according to some unfathomable rhythm of existence."

It was a fascinating concept, certainly, but one that was also unsettling. It introduced an element of unpredictability, a level of dynamism that I had not anticipated in this bizarre craft. And yet, the very strangeness of the idea stirred a keen interest within me, a curiosity that demanded satisfaction. I was beginning to understand just how vast and complex this world of Kyda's truly was.

And just as I was grappling with this paradigm shift, with the complete lack of fanfare I had come to expect Kyda called the day ended, offering no respite for my spinning head from the avalanche of information. I quickly made use of the newly installed bathing facilities—a welcoming comfort after the long, grueling day—before moving the fresh blankets into my room and collapsing onto the bed. The events of the day had left me physically drained and mentally overloaded.

As I drifted off, I felt a strange sense of anticipation for the next day, for the continuation of this strange and fascinating journey. The world of Kyda’s craft, once an enigma, was slowly starting to reveal itself, and I was eager to uncover more. My last thought before sleep claimed me was a silent acknowledgement of my strange mentor and the bizarre world she had introduced me to. I couldn't have known then just how deeply I would sink into the gravity of her influence.

As I woke to the next dawn, dreams of animate creations and unknown life forces still lingering, I couldn’t help but feel a bizarre sense of excitement. The mysteries of Kyda's craft were slowly unveiling themselves, and it felt like I was on the brink of something extraordinary. The world around me was changing and shifting in strange, often confounding ways. But amid this chaos, I felt a strange sense of direction, a pull. The craft, Kyda’s world, was drawing me in like a moth to a flame.

Even so, my understanding of this new reality was still embryonic. I was not the navigator of this journey, but more of a passenger, taking in the mesmerizing sights. I had little choice but to trust in Kyda, my newfound guide, as she led me through this surreal landscape. And for now, that was enough. I had a sense of purpose, however unclear it might be, and that alone was more than I'd had in a long while.

This feeling of purpose carried me through the day as I found myself once more under Kyda's watchful eye. Today’s lessons veered away from the realm of the enigmatic and took a more pragmatic turn. My mentor was many things, but disorganized was not one of them. She ran her shop with a firm hand, and today I was to learn the ropes. It wasn't just about understanding the magical and the extraordinary; it was also about the mundane, the everyday tasks that kept the world spinning.

I watched in fascination as Kyda relayed the rules of engagement for selling her wares. At the moment, the only items up for sale were seemingly mundane – tools, basic weapons, and the like, crafted from high-quality metals with a unique mana structure capable of accepting minor essence that made them far superior to any other equipment available in this town. Despite their plain appearance, there was a marked value to each item that Kyda was adamant to uphold.

Her voice was firm, holding an edge of steel as she instructed, "We have no customers yet, Claire, and that's intentional. We're setting the stage for what's to come, laying the groundwork for future transactions. As such, we are to be uncompromisingly stringent on price."

I blinked at her in surprise. "But, won't haggling help bring in customers?"

Kyda shook her head, the glow of the pale recessed lighting casting long shadows on her face, highlighting her stern expression. "No. We will not haggle, we will not bow to pleas or desperation. The prices we set are non-negotiable. The quality of our items justifies the price. If potential customers cannot recognize that, then they're not the customers we want."

There was an underlying strength to her words, a fundamental principle that seemed to govern her business conduct. The thought of turning away potential customers seemed reckless to me. However, Kyda was resolute. Her conviction was unwavering, and it left little room for doubt.

She leaned back against her workbench, crossing her arms as she studied me, "Remember, Claire, we're not just peddling trinkets. Every piece we sell holds a piece of our craftsmanship, our efforts. Never underestimate their worth. And never, ever, let anyone else underestimate it either."

Kyda's words echoed in my mind, carving an image of a profession that was far more than a simple trade. It was a devotion, an exercise in pride and dignity. It felt as though she didn't just craft objects, but wove a part of her own essence into each creation, a commitment to excellence that appeared as an inextricable part of her very being. It wasn't an emotional sentiment; there was no warmth or passion in her tone. Instead, it was a cold, unwavering resolution, almost as if it was a law of nature to her - the way a tree must reach for the sunlight, or a river must flow to the sea.

This wasn't just about maintaining standards for business's sake. It was deeper, more fundamental. It was Kyda's unwavering adherence to her craft, a testament to her commitment to excellence, to the respect she held for her work, and ultimately, to herself. It was both intimidating and oddly compelling.

Kyda then bestowed upon me another duty: to watch over the shop in her absence. It was an overwhelming prospect that brought a surge of trepidation, yet it also held an undertone of empowerment. At the moment, it felt like a significant responsibility. I couldn't shake the feeling that there was more to it than merely keeping an eye on the storefront. It was as though this assignment was a way for Kyda to instill in me a sense of importance and encourage my growth. I didn't fully grasp this possible ulterior motive, but the confidence she showed in my abilities was strangely reassuring. This new role made me feel more than just a bystander; it was as if I was slowly cementing my place within the strange fabric of this peculiar world.

As the sun sank below the horizon, Kyda began to instruct me in the task of securing the shop for the night. The process was mostly mundane, involving checking the locks on the doors and windows, but it held a deeper significance. It was my responsibility to keep the forge safe. It was as if, in some small way, the place was becoming mine to care for.

"The external doors have a simple lock mechanism," Kyda explained, pointing towards the heavily enchanted doors. "You can engage it from inside remotely from the counter controls. If trouble knocks, your first duty is to retreat to the workshop and seal yourself behind the reinforced doors."

Her words hung heavy in the air. "Retreat and lock yourself in," she reiterated, her tone making it clear that this was a serious instruction. Oddly, her tone and instruction mimicked that of her description for locking up the shop’s wares given just prior. "The workshop can serve as a bunker of sorts. It’s designed to withstand substantial pressure and has potent internal defenses."

I nodded, taking in her words, but then she added a cryptic statement that left me puzzled. "Essence," she said, her eyes strangely distant, "can be targeted in a living being, if need be."

"What do you mean?" I asked, drawn in by the intriguing yet eerie implication of her words.

"Essence isn’t only useful in forging," she replied, her voice not wavering in tone, but slightly slowing in pace, as if her words were an iota more considered than the typical drone. "In dire situations, essence can become a liability. You’ve seen its power in shaping inanimate objects. Imagine the impact on a living entity.”

I shivered, the implication of her words settling in. The defenses of the workshop weren’t just physical, there were elements at play I hadn’t considered. The strange world I’d been pulled into was even more complex and dangerous than I’d thought. It was both exhilarating and terrifying.

"Just one more thing, Claire," Kyda's words echoed in the dimly lit workshop, pulling my attention back to her as I was about to retire for the night.

I pivoted on my heels to face her, eyebrow raised in curiosity.

"Tomorrow, when the morning sun graces the horizon, we will collect your boots and some other necessities. Following that, we'll set off together on an outing outside of town," she announced, her normally frosty gaze remaining unmoved.

The news sent a rush of emotions through me, a frenzied blend of excitement, uncertainty, and a pinch of fear. The idea of stepping out into this world again, far removed from the budding sanctuary of the workshop, was undoubtedly a leap out of my rapidly established comfort zone.

"Observing you today, I concluded it might be too early to leave you unsupervised," she further clarified, her stern voice carrying an unusual hint of concern. "Besides, bearing witness to the process of collecting essence and infusing our maiden batch of true forged gear might be more instructive than any verbal explanations."

Her forthright admission, coupled with the prospect of novel experiences, ignited a spark of relief and intrigue within me. Yes, as I knew the world beyond the shop was perilous, but with Kyda's guidance, it felt less intimidating. As my mind filled with images of tomorrow's expedition, sleep tugged at the corners of my consciousness.

Closing up shop, the silent echo of its veiled defenses seemed to resonate within the space around me. As I withdrew into the comfort of my quarters, my mind buzzed with the day's enlightenments. My dreams that night were a whirlwind of runes, essences, and the subtle undertones of Kyda's instruction. Sleep was a restless dance between the anticipation for the journey to come and the disquieting revelations of the workshop's hidden dimensions.


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Bio: Just a shut-in who thinks writing words is slightly more productive than wasting time on social media, and if some readers can benefit from my efforts at self improvement, all the better.

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