Volume 13, Chapter 7-2: The Blacksmith (II)

“Zhang, you’re here. Good to see you again!” a woman in her early twenties greeted him with a smile.

She was about my height. Her dark hair, not entirely black but not brown either, was pulled back in a bun. The woman wore a heavy duty apron over a black stained shirt. She also wore thick work pants and boots. I saw a welding mask on a nearby table inside the shed.

“Where’s Long and Feng? Has he finally succumb to Feng’s charm and they’re off somewhere together?” the woman questioned.

“Long’s talking with Fei right now. I don’t know about Feng. She said she’ll be here once Long’s weapon is finally located,” En answered.

“Sounds like she’s planning something. Introduce me to your new friend here. And Lau, how have you been?” the woman walked up to me.

“Pretty good,” Shui responded.

“I’m Tomo Yuki. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, I’m with them now,” I introduced myself.

The woman looked me over. She smiled and extended her hand out. I shook her hand and heaved a sigh of relief after we finished. Her grip was strong, possibly due to her profession.

“Nice to meet ya, Tomo. Or do you want to be called Yuki?” the blacksmith grinned.

“I’m fine with either,” I replied, taken aback by her frankness.

“I pick Yuki, it’s a nice name! They’re still calling you by your family name, aren’t they? Long’s always so uptight. Sorry Yuki, totally forgot to introduce myself. Name’s Zhurong, no need for anything else but that, got it?” her smile, although genuine, contained a hint of danger.

“Yeah, I got it,” I answered.

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“Zhu, what’s the information you have for us?” En questioned.

I was surprised by how he addressed her. En never used nicknames for anyone. They must be close. He was also relaxed around her too. Very interesting.

“The place want to go is outside of here. But first, let me check your sword!” Zhurong motioned for us to enter.

Once inside, I felt a rush of heat. It made sense, she was a blacksmith after all. En handed Zhurong his sword, watching her inspect the blade. I wandered around the workshop, discovering numerous blades and weapons hanging on the wall. All her items seemed high quality too. Shui sat on a bench, staring at the hearth flames.

“What have you been hitting? Your blade is dull!” Zhurong gave En a sharp look.

“Uh, a bunch of things. We ran into some golems on our way here,” En responded with a sheepish smile.

“I’ll fix it up for you! Yuki, do you have any swords that you want me to take a look at?” the blacksmith placed En’s blade on a nearby table.

Well, I did have Commander Yu’s blade and there was a blacksmith right in front of me. It was a waste not to get my new weapon inspected.

“Do you mind?” I materialized the blade and transferred it over to her.

Her eyes lit up upon seeing it. She donned a pair of goggles and moved her hands across the weapon.

“Jin’s done work on it. I recognize his handiwork. Yuki, this is an excellent sword. I’ll modify it so even Zhang will have a tough time against you,” Zhurong decided.

“Thank you so much. You’re the expert so I’ll leave it in your hands,” I accepted her offer.

“It’ll take me a few days. Zhang, I have a favor to ask. Let’s fight after I finish working on your blade. It’s been awhile since I sparred with someone strong,” Zhurong requested.

“Sure,” En agreed.

“Okay, time for everyone to get out! Time for work!” Zhurong ushered us out, practically shoving all three of us outside before shutting the door behind her.

The man and woman from before handed En a piece of paper. He glanced at it before shoving it into his pockets. They bowed and departed without a word.

“I thought she was just a blacksmith. En, is she really strong?” I questioned, curious about her motivation.

“She’s the one who taught me how to use my fire powers. Whenever I’m here, she always wants to test out how I’ve been doing,” En revealed.

Blacksmith and flames, a fitting combination. Did that mean Kyoi only taught En sword skills? I thought for sure she was responsible for his mastery of flames. More likely, she supplemented anything Zhurong showed him. It wasn’t like her to just stand back and watch.

“We should check out the shops. There could be good deals and maybe even free things!” Shui suggested.

“Good idea,” En agreed.

The water manipulator missed no opportunities for free items or samples. Shui also chatted with shopkeepers as if they were long time friends. En browsed in silence, not going out of his way to speak with anyone. We finally returned to the workshop after a messenger informed us Zhurong completed her maintenance on En’s sword. The woman greeted us inside, returning his katana. He tested the blade, satisfied with the results.

“Yuki, return in two days for your weapon. I’ll make the sword reaches its full potential!” Zhurong tossed her gloves onto a bench.

“Thanks. I got it off someone called Commander Yu. Zhuyu said he was a magician knight,” I recalled.

“Oh, he’s a pretty high ranking soldier. You have potential, beating him. I’m interested in fighting you one day,” Zhurong remarked.

She then led us to a barren field, containing a circular ring. Villagers gathered around it in anticipation. When Zhurong approach, they moved aside, allowing En and her to enter.

“Shui, there’s a lot of people!” I observed at least twenty villagers.

“Maybe because Zhurong is here? She’s strong so people are interested in seeing her fight,” Shui said.

Dim flames appeared, lighting up the ring circumference. Ah, a barrier for preventing interference! Too bad there wasn’t any seating available. No one seemed to mind as chants and cheers filled the air. The crowd size increased, numbering in the seventies. What kind of fighter was Zhurong that so many people showed up?

“Shui, how has En done against her in the past?” I wondered about his success against her.

“Don’t really know. I haven’t seen them fight too many times. Zhurong beat Zhang pretty badly last time. But, Zhang can win, I’m sure! He’s got this!” Shui pumped me up for the battle.

I rarely witnessed fights involving people with similar powers. I was especially curious about Zhurong’s utilization of fire. I might find them useful and apply them to my own repertoire.

En v. Zhurong: Combusting Flames

A purple tinge surrounded En. Was this new or a variant of something I saw before? Zhurong wielded a sledgehammer, swinging it around with grace. Her weapon struck En’s blade and she hopped back in response. Zhurong swung her sledgehammer and I expected it to strike the katana user. Instead, it bounced off an electric shield. Interesting, En utilized defensive moves too.

The blacksmith retreated before leaping into the air. She slammed her weapon into the ground and a dark red aura surrounded her. A barrage of fiery flames exploded out of her sledgehammer, and fractured into smaller pieces, sizzling in the air. En avoided the main projectiles but was caught in the aftermath of her attack. It shattered his electrical shield and he was blown back into the ring circumference.

As Zhurong sped towards him, En countered with his wire. It wrapped around the woman’s left leg and he transferred his electrical magic through it. She severed his wire with one swing of her weapon. No, it wasn’t even the sledgehammer! The immense heat emanating from it was the cause. It also generated a heat blast, heading straight for En. He blocked the brunt of her attack with his katana blade.

En charged himself up before dashing at his opponent. Their weapons clashed and the two matched each other in speed. I anticipated her sledgehammer shattering En’s blade but the man’s weapon remained intact. En finally took advantage of a small opening, and grabbed her shoulder, wrapping wire around her dominant arm. He yanked downward, forcing Zhurong to the ground. He chopped his sword downward, making solid contact with her for the first time.

Despite her predicament, she managed to kick En’s sword out of his hand. Zhurong then jammed her sledgehammer into En’s stomach and fired off another round of flaming meteors. The dual elemental user shot off an electric blast into the air. His projectile exploded, creating thin lines of electricity. A defensive technique similar to Shui’s ice wall? It appeared fragile but blocked most of the meteors.

En retrieved his weapon and shot electric waves at the blacksmith. She deflected his attack with the sledgehammer head. On her next swing, he slashed her legs. His next swing knocked the woman back into an exploding fire fissure appearing out of nowhere.

“Ho, I see! You’ve really mastered your electric powers. I have to thank Feng. But, don’t neglect your fire powers!” Zhurong shot straight back up despite taking a direct hit.

She smashed the ground with her sledgehammer, causing a sweltering heat. I wiped away the sweat on my forehead and felt my clothes stick to my body. Wispy red waves surrounded the area En stood in. He fell to his knees, gritting his teeth in pain. Was it the heat or something else? Regardless, he was pinned down. The blacksmith’s sledgehammer turned crimson in color and she swung it upward at the man. Zhurong released her grip on the weapon and sent it straight into En. Her sledgehammer exploded with an intense burst of light. Was En still standing? The red wispy waves disappeared, finally allowing us a clearer look. En was slumped on the ground. Uh, was it over?

“Come on Zhang, you can do it!” Shui clapped his hands in encouragement.

En slowly stood up and stumbled, grasping his sword. He coughed, blood spilling out from the corner of his mouth. Zhurong nodded, acknowledging his tenacity. She followed up with a slash, wielding a short dagger now. He barely dodged in time and raised his hands. Short bursts of purple lightning struck the ground around her. Why didn’t he directly target her? When the bolts landed, pieces of the ground flew into the air and struck Zhurong. She couldn’t deflect his attack with her dagger and was knocked down to the ground.

En clutched his stomach and plunged his sword downward. A weak, flickering glow bathed his weapon. The hero’s charged attacks lacked its usual immense firepower but I still anticipated him dealing good damage. Zhurong took the hit and hurled her dagger at him. Her blade exploded, not as devastating as before, but still blasted the electric-fire user back.

She then pounded En with flaming punches. En constructed an electric shield but Zhurong shattered it immediately. He responded with flame fissures but Zhurong evaded all of them. With one wave of her hand, they lost their explosiveness and dissipated into small simmering pools of lava. She jammed her knee into En’s arm, disarming him of his blade, and took possession of it.

“Zhang, don’t take this personally. You know how it is!” Zhurong smiled as a dark crimson red engulfed the blade.

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With one slash, she unleashed a dark beam at En. It struck the area right in front of him and sent flying chunks of rock at En. Visible burn marks appeared throughout his body. En tried standing, blue flames engulfing his body, but they vanished and he fell face-first. The flames around the ring dissipated, reduced to tiny embers. The crowd clapped and shouted out Zhurong’s name. She walked over to En, checking on his condition.

“Zhang, are you okay?” Shui rushed over.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” En responded as a faint blue flame surrounded his body again.

“That was fun, Zhang. You’re limited without your best equipment. Find your ultimate weapon so you can give me a real challenge!” Zhurong remarked.

En nodded with a weak smile. The blue flames around him grew brighter and then dimmed. It must be his healing powers. Zhurong spoke with En before handing him a… compass?

“Damn, I missed a big fight. Anyways, let’s get to the real fun part for today!” Zhuyu suddenly stood next to me.

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