LEGEND OF THE EMPYREAN BLACKSMITH
BOOK I – UMBRA KINGDOM
ARC I – DEMONS, BLACKSMITH AND CULTIVATORS
A bulky, middle-aged man stared at the roughly cut and oddly shaped stone in his hands, his brows furrowed deeply in anger. His eyes then shifted from the trashy stone onto the youth standing next to him. The youth appeared to be no older than fifteen and had ragged features of an adult, contrasting the slender and almost underfed body. The boy had black eyes and hair and was currently puffing his bony chest out in pride.
"Trash!!" the middle-aged man exclaimed suddenly as he threw the stone against the floor, breaking the former into pieces. "Absolute trash!! What the hell are you puffing your chest out for, trash?!! You're even worse trash than what my son shits out after eating pig crap for weeks!!" the middle-aged man was completely red in face, his anger seemingly creating a mirage of a dragon behind him.
"… you feed your son pig crap? Oi, oi old man! That's no good! What if the poor fella suddenly grows a pig tail? Wouldn't he become a circus joke around the village?" the youth scrutinized the middle-aged man deeply and even lectured the latter, giving him a valuable life lesson.
Alas, what that valuable life lesson earned him was a swift kick in the ass as he flew out of the blacksmith shop straight onto the street. He was soon planted face-first into dirt while chuckles and laughter soon echoed out around him. Gritting his teeth, the youth pushed himself up and dusted off dirt from his cheap, peasant's clothes. Glancing back at the blacksmith shop and the closed doors, the youth spat and stuck out his tongue as he left the place in large strides. Shit, this I even got kicked out by the worst blacksmith in the village. Do I really have no talent in mashing a hammer against stone? No, no, never doubt yourself Lino! What did the old beggar use to say? That's right! Lino, you're absolute trash of a human being, but damn me if you can't hammer a brick with your head!
The youth currently walking through the dirt pavements of the village was called Lynoel, but most people called him simply Lino. He grew up in an orphanage, never meeting his parents, and thus never learning his family's name. Just a few days ago, he had turned fifteen, and was kicked out of the orphanage and began searching for work. He deeply believed he had immeasurable talent for blacksmithing, for creating beautiful and indestructible pieces of armor and weaponry, which is why he immediately went to the best blacksmith in the village, only to be sent packing twenty minutes later. And so, he scoured the village, offering his divine services to all who would have him, only to eat dirt shortly after.
The village was on the larger scale, as it was adjacent to the Kingdom's Capital city; the former was called Bridge, while the Capital itself was called Umbra, mirroring the Kingdom's name. Because of its scale, the village had eight famous blacksmiths in total, and Lino had even found the ninth, the middle-aged man who fed his son pig crap. Alas, he was kicked out yet again. For the first time since leaving orphanage, Lino felt dispirited. He had been eating rotten bread for the past three weeks, and however good his digestive system was, his backside had begun protesting against him a few days ago. Even he felt sorry for the little fella.
Sighing, he began randomly walking through the streets, glancing around without purpose. The village was rather prosperous as it had a nearby metal deposit, making it one of the most important places in the Kingdom. Because of this, blacksmiths were born left and right in the village, and most of the Kingdom's armory came directly from this village actually.
After nearly an hour of reckless wandering, Lino realized something: he was lost. He always kept to the western side of the village that he was familiar with, but the alley he found himself in was a complete novelty to him. Looking up at the sky, it looked like the sun would soon fade and night would emerge. He felt his stomach rumble yet, a mere moment later, his crack clenched up firmly. The two parts that were supposed to be cooperating seemed to be currently at war, leaving him helpless. Sighing yet again, he wandered on and on, until night had fully taken place. The village had calmed somewhat, with windows of the houses glistening in light gold from the lanterns burning inside. Finding a slightly hidden alley, Lino went inside and hid, crouching against the wall and tightly wrapping his arms around his knees. It's no good…
He had soon lost the sense of time and drifted off into nothingness. His body felt extremely light and he collapsed sideways, happily snoring without a care in the world. Night passed quickly, and Lino heard bustling of the village early in the morning as he slowly opened his eyes. He first sat up and stretched, yawning lightly as he wiped his eyes. Opening them, he saw a rather sturdy knee in front, leaving him confused. He blinked a few times, yet the knee was still there. Is it a new race of people? Tsk, they just keep spawning. People really have to start controlling their urges.
He slowly raised his head and was welcomed by a white-bearded fella that was nearly two meters tall, giving the youth's heart a start.
"Beast!!" Lino exclaimed as he scurried backwards, only to realize that there was only the wall behind him. The white-bearded man's brows twitched when the brat called him a beast, but he settled quickly.
"D-don't kill me!" Lino exclaimed. "I… I know! I can wipe your ass!"
"Who the hell would want you to wipe their ass?!" the white-bearded man exclaimed as he slapped Lino squarely against the latter's cheek. The boy plummeted onto the ground as though struck by a gigantic stone. "Eh?" the bearded man exclaimed immediately after. "Oi, oi, wake up. I barely scratched you! Oi, don't tell me you've died!"
"… old man, that hurt!" Lino exclaimed. "I demand payment for physical and emotional abuse!"
"Pu!" another slap landed squarely against the other cheek, and Lino now plummeted onto the other side. Kick soon followed, and then another, and another, all the while the man kept shouting. "You bastard, you scared me half to death! Pretending to be hurt! Fuck, you nearly sent this old man to his early grave! Shit, get up!"
"… aaai mister, you're really rough," Lino said as he groaned in pain. "Now I'm really hurt."
"… so you weren't hurt before?" the bearded man asked.
"… so, what's up?" Lino quickly changed the subject.
"What are you doing sleeping in my backyard?" the bearded man took a deep breath and decided to play along.
"This is your backyard?" Lino said, looking around. It was just a shabby alley which stank of horse feces. "Shouldn't you be hiding that fact rather than proclaiming it?" Lino asked, questioning expression on his face. Pa! Yet another slap, and the young boy could nearly see the stars twinkling in front of him. "Oi, old man, stop hitting me! Any more and you might actually kill me!"
"Tsk, I would be doing the world a favor."
"… aah, how heartless of you. Don't you know that even I have dreams? That even I wish to see the world and prosper and emerge like a fish from a small pond straight into lake and swim up the current and travel to the ocean and eat sharks and whales and then eat sun?" Lino blabbered on and the more he did so, the more did the old man's expression sank.
"…" the old man looked at him for a moment, finally scrutinizing him closely; the youth's body was truly miserable. If there was such thing as a human without a muscle atop a bone, it was this young brat in front of him. "Did you eat?"
"… like, food?" Lino asked.
"… come with me." the old man said, crying in his heart.
Lino was soon led out of the alley and into the two-story building next to it. It was extremely shabby. Half the sign atop the entrance was cracked, while the remaining half was hanging off the edge of a single nail. There were roughly twelve holes just at the front, and windows were blown open, draft probably strong enough to cause kidney failure.
"… no, I was wrong." Lino said.
"Hm?" the old man glanced at him.
"You should definitely feel proud that alley is your backyard." Pu!
Suffice to say, Lino's cheeks were swollen like two apples, but he at least followed the old man obediently into the shabby house. However, the moment he entered, a sweet scent of freshly baked bread invaded his half-closed nostrils. The youth's eyes glimmered in excitement as he looked left and right; he finally located the source: a woman in the kitchen! No, wait, not the woman, but the loaf of bread she was holding.
"Oh, who's the guest?" the woman asked, smiling warmly as she welcomed the bearded man.
"The stinking brat was sleeping in our backyard." the old man replied in a rather gentle tone. The woman appeared middle-aged and, even though years have taken a toll on her, Lino was able to see that she was once quite a beautiful lady. Her slightly greyed-out hair was tied in a bun and she wore simple, white one-piece dress and apron strapped around her waist.
"… ai, ai, why are you still calling that place your backyard? Aren't you ashamed?" the woman said, shaking her head. Immediately after, Lino snickered while the old man glared at him. "What's your name child?" the woman ignored the old man who went to the kitchen and sat down.
"Lino!" the boy exclaimed, smiling.
"Welcome, welcome," the woman urged him into the kitchen and he sat right next to the old man. "We haven't had a visitor in a while."
"Doesn't wind visit you daily?" Lino asked innocently. The old man coughed out a bucket of blood while the woman burst out in laughter. These two are weird… Lino thought.
"… cough, cough, stinking brat! Do you want to eat or do you want to die?!"
"Eat, definitely eat! Death is scary!" Lino said.
"…" the woman soon gave Lino a loaf of bread and even some jam. His stomach rumbled like thunder, as though a starving Dragon awoke after seeing a meaty pig after eating grass for eons. He devoured the poor loaf of bread and ate all the jam before the old man even took a first bite. "… you…" the old man muttered as he saw Lino's eyes focused on a loaf of bread in his hands. Sighing, in the end he handed it over, and the youth devoured it all the same. Only then did he lean back onto his chair and rubbed his belly in satisfaction.
"Why were you sleeping in the alley, Lino?" the woman asked, smiling warmly at the boy.
"Ah! I was done injustice!" Lino exclaimed, frowning lightly. "That bastard Mitch kicked me out of his shop because he couldn't see that the stone I cut was so brilliant even those Immortals would come and battle over it!"
"…." Both elderly were stumped for a moment. Immortals? Indeed, they were just as weird. "You want to become a blacksmith?" the woman asked, a strange glint flashing past her eyes.
"He he," Lino chuckled. "Not just a blacksmith, but the greatest stone-banger this world has ever seen! One day, I shall craft a sword that will make even gods drool over the stats! Ha ha, just you wait world! You will be sorry for ignoring my brilliance!"
"…" yet again, both found themselves stumped to silence. Stone-banger? That silence was interrupted as the two chuckled. Indeed, birds of a feather flock together. "Is that so?" the woman said, smiling mysteriously. The old man suddenly felt cold sweat pour down his back. "My loving husband here just happens to be a blacksmith. Maybe you can study under him." THIS WOMAN!!
"Hmm…" Lino glanced at the old man and narrowed his eyes, seriously inspecting the latter. "Don't blacksmiths earn a lot of gold? Why does he live in this hellhole? It only means he's a terrible blacksmith. Maybe he's even worse than me!" Pa! As the old man slapped Lino, the former also coughed some blood. His heart was wrung, pride shattered, and he nearly wanted to cry, while the woman burst out in laughter yet again.
"Damn brat, what do you know?!! All of you brainless youths just seek to get riches through blacksmithing! Nobody is concerned with true concepts of craft anymore! All they want is glitter and shine! Pu!" the old man spat out. "Shameful! You're all corrupting the beautiful art of crafting with your vanity!"
"That does sound like something a sucky blacksmith would say." Lino persisted. Pa! "Oi, my teeth are already weak old man! Do you want me to become toothless before I reach your age?!"
"… ha ha," the woman laughed yet again. "Although he may not seem like much, Eggor is really talented. He could teach you a lot."
"Your name is Eggor?" Lino asked, narrow his eyes in inspection yet again. "Is it because your face is egg-shaped?" the poor old man simply started banging his head against the table. Logic didn't work against this kid, violence didn't work against this kid, what did? He had known the brat less than an hour, and he already felt he had lost two years of his already short life.
"So, what do you say?" the woman persisted.
"… hmm, I guess that's fine. I'll allow him to be my Master." Lino said, proudly nodding.
The old man was already at the ends of his wits. He, who once shocked the entire Umbra Kingdom into utter silence by the grandeur of his craft, is being allowed to become a Master by some insignificant brat?! If his peers were to learn of this, how would they react? Eggor didn't even dare think of it.
"Here, look." the woman suddenly took out a small, kitchen knife. The blade appeared rather clear and handle seemed ordinary. "He crafted this for me for our tenth anniversary." Lino took the knife slowly and inspected it. As he saw its stats, even he felt slight shock.
[Simple Kitchen Knife - Enchanted]
Effect: Increases cutting speed while preparing food by 50%.
Note: Crafted by a Grandmaster Blacksmith Eggor. The grandeur lies in simplicity of its design.
Almost every item in the world had stats. The stats are used to determine the quality of the item, and even more so when weapons and armors and such are involved. One has to know that even the best blacksmith in the Bridge Village could only craft Level 50 items, and that was on a good day. Yet, this old man crafted an ordinary, kitchen knife, and it was already Level 40.
"Ha? Shocked silly brat, aren't you? Look, see how lucky you are now?" Eggor asked, his smile full of pride.
"Not bad!" Lino exclaimed nodding his head. "You're almost worthy of being my full-time Master!"
Tears streamed down poor old man's cheeks as he looked through the glassless window. A memory flashed inside his mind from about twenty years ago. He sat on King's right side while a line of tens of thousands of youths were waiting to become his apprentice or at least receive a pointer or two from him. He even received offers from those famous Sects and Clans that cultivated Qi. Yet, in the eyes of his brat, he was 'almost worthy of being his full-time Master'. Is it ignorance? It has to be ignorance.
"Ah, what's your name Madam?" Lino asked respectfully, causing Eggor to cough up another mouthful of blood.
"He he, what a charmer you are," the woman chuckled lightly. "You can call me Ella."
"Ella… beautiful name! How about you dump this old hunk of meat and become my wife instead?" Lino asked, his eyes beaming with confidence. "I have to tell you, in months' time, I'll craft a Celestial Weapon and gift it to you! This old man will soon be eating my dust! You deserve much better!" Ella burst out in laughter once again while poor Eggor felt like taking that knife and stabbing himself with it. The stinking brat didn't even put him in his eyes!!
"… I'll consider it." Ella said in the end, winking at Lino.
"Heh, you've lost, old man." Lino puffed out his chest proudly as Ella walked out the kitchen. Even though Eggor was almost twice as tall as him, Lino still somehow seemed to be looking down at the old man from the high skies above.
"Yeah, I've lost." Eggor sighed helplessly. "I lost the moment I didn't splatter your brains in the backyard."
"… at least you would have made that damned place better-looking that way."
"…" yet another bucket of blood left Eggor's body, whose face had already gone completely pale while his eyes turned lifeless. Bounding arrogance! Unseen pride! Even those Sect Disciples Eggor met in his early days weren't this arrogant!
And, yet, he had apparently taken this arrogant youth under his wing and was supposed to teach him how to bang the stone. Eggor had never taken an apprentice in his entire life, but, in these past few years, he had yearned for it. As he slowly withdrew from the worldly affairs, he didn't want his knowledge to be forgotten, and felt a need to pass it on onto the next generation. However, no matter how much he searched, Ella never approved of any one he chose. And, yet, she approved of this brat. Eggor always knew his beloved wife was insane and slightly odd, but he felt this was a bit too much.
Lino, on the other hand, actually fell asleep while sitting on a chair. After finally eating something decent after so long, his entire body relaxed as the threat of starving to death passed. Drool slipped out corner of his mouth as his lips curled up in an exciting smile.
"He, he, I'm flattered Princess, but my Celestial Rod is too powerful for you…" he mumbled. Eggor's brows twitched as he glanced at the brat. C-celestial Rod?... ai, ai, better not think about it. Let him sleep. It looks like my days will be peaceful only when he's asleep…
And thus, Lino had finally apprenticed himself to a blacksmith, ready to begin his journey of legendary craftsmanship! To create Divine Weapons! Charm Celestial Beauties! Drink Heavenly Wines! On the other hand, Eggor firmly believed youth's bones will be broken if he tried to lift a hammer. Why did she accept him? He didn't know, but he didn't bother asking either. After all, the only reason Eggor reached the heights of craft he did was because of her. Her eyes were far more than just pretty.
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