“There isn’t much to say about the place. What matters was the way I lived there.”
The elder perked his ears as his eyes shone with a child-like glimmer. Darius had stoked the elder’s curiosity quite well. Darius was far from ordinary, so a tale of his beginnings was well worth his time.
“I was too handsome; thus, the others shunned me with envy. The end.” Darius clapped and nodded as if he had spoken like a wise sage from times old.
“Ehem.” The elder was momentarily stunned before he managed to let out an awkward cough. “Young man, surely you jest.”
“Jest? Old man, I just told you my most traumatic experience, yet you dare claim that I was jesting?” Darius defensively crossed his arms over his chest and put on a grumpy expression like he had been severely wronged and demanded justice to be served.
The elder’s face scrunched up so much that Darius bemusedly thought that the old man’s current expression would be similar to one he himself would wear upon eating a bad lemon.
The elder knew quite well that he had been taken for a ride, but what could he possibly do in this situation? Intimidate the boy? Well, that could work, but the elder did not want to destroy the “good” impression Darius had of him. In fact, the elder desperately wished that at some point Darius would treat him like a grandfather. After all to hitch his star upon such a talented young man…
Darius was smirking on the inside. He had finally gotten one over the old man. He finally felt in control of the situation. The past few days had been out of control: he had been tossed into crazy situation after crazy situation, all the while with his meager little life hanging in the balance. Insanity aside, Darius was not happy about not being in control of these events.
This old man had barged into his room with his hammer in tow. This in addition to the fact that he had taken control of the initial ceremony meant that he was someone of high standing. The only question was why was he interested in Darius?
The first person of high standing who took interest in him had endangered his life, resulting in his current predicament. So Darius, disregarding his intuition, decided to take a step back and advance slowly. His first step was figuring out the old man’s agenda.
“Now that I have told you about my grueling and pain-filled childhood, it is the elder’s turn to inform me of something.”
“Hhm?” The old man raised a brow in suspicion. Something about Darius taking the initiative didn’t sit right with him.
Darius ignored the old man’s displeasure and went on with his intentions. “Why is this honorable elder in my room? Surely an esteemed elder such as yourself would have many things to do at such an ungodly hour.”
The elder grinned in understanding. He had already gained a rough idea of Darius’s intentions. Wanting to maintain a good rapport with the boy, he decided to speak the truth, “It’s a bit of a long story, young man, one not for the light of heart.
Darius recognized the provocation in the elder’s tone and decided to take the bait. “I have plenty of time, have a heart of steel, and am extremely handsome. Have I mentioned before how handsome everyone considers me?”
The elder found Darius’s little skit amusing and continued on.
“If one reaches the peak of any vocation or art, they will eventually come across a wall that cannot be overcome by talent or hard work.”
The sudden switch to a serious topic drew in Darius’s attention. Satisfied that he had the boy where he wanted him, the elder continued.
“The arts are extremely varied. The types of paths one can take to reach the top are as infinite as the stars in the night sky. Thus, if you were to examine two masters of any vocation, you would notice many differences in the way they practice their works. These differences come from the different thoughts, philosophies, skills, and emotions the masters have mastered. After all, one can only be called a master when they have reached the peak of their arts. Yet, beyond reaching the peak of the already existent, there is a greater challenge. The more talented masters create new skills. These are called grandmasters! The peak of the highest mountain! The greatest of the greatest!
Pick any grandmaster within a vocation, and you will discover that their names roared across the continent at one point in time. The skills they created have left behind eternal legacies for others to behold, a great honor for any craftsman. Alas, that honor comes with a burden: the wall I just spoke of earlier.”
The elder took a moment to rub his forehead and sigh. He was clearly vexed by something. Although Darius had grown up in a tiny village, he could tell how grand the elder’s words were. Indeed, grandmasters of any craft were incredible.
As he was growing up, Darius would often hear that a grandmaster of a craft could make a noble beg. The noblest of all craftsmen, spiritsmiths, were in a whole different league. It was said that a grandmaster spiritsmith had a status similar to that of the Emperor!
Many thoughts ran amok in Darius’s mind. This old man, just who was he? Was he a grandmaster? Since he was able to subdue his hammer so easily, could it be…
“The ultimate wish for any grandmaster is to pass on their skills to a worthy disciple, but these are incredibly difficult to find. The arts require a strict skillset. The more revered the art, the more strict the skillset must be. My craft is incredibly difficult, and as such, finding a disciple worthy of my grand masterpiece is nigh impossible.
Most grandmasters are forced to take in faux disciples to partially inherit their skills. A grandmaster with a true disciple was as rare as a phoenix. I have had many faux disciples, but I have yet to find one worthy of being my true disciple. The skills I created require an extremely rare set of skills, skills that have mostly been lost to the sands of time.”
The elder showed a pained face as he reminisced about his struggles. Darius was too stunned to speak. He had a growing feeling that he knew exactly what this old man wanted.
“To inherit my set of skills, above incredible talent in the field, one must also possess three other talents: extreme tolerance for pain, extreme tolerance for the mundane, and extreme shamelessness. Finding one talented in those four things is rare. I thought it was impossible. Then I met you.”
Darius felt his spine tingle as he heard the old man’s words. Anything that required those traits was not something he wanted to be associated with. He raised his hands defensively instantly. “Hold on old man-”
The elder ignored Darius’s rude behavior and continued, “You impressed me with your pain tolerance when the curse broke. That should have hurt, but you took it in stride. Very impressive.”
Darius stood up and started backing away. “What? Pfft, I don’t know what you are talking about, old man. I’m pretty sure I screamed in agony. I’m a real big baby when it comes to pain.”
The old man stood up while vigorously pointing at Darius. “Being able to do ten thousand strikes a day is evidence of being able to handle the most mundane of tasks. When I first saw you at the Smitersmith guild, I knew you were special.
Darius vigorously shook his head. “I actually get very bored very easily. In fact, sometimes I get so bored that I feel like dying would be much better. Wait, how do you know all this? Have you been stalking me, old man?”
The old man closely followed Darius with each word. “I’ve heard of how shameless you are, kneeling in front of someone in public without hesitation. Such shamelessness is incredible!”
Darius kept backing away with each word. “What? I am very shy. For every affront I receive, I will learn that man’s name and gain vengeance for my honor… or was it my peace of mind? Either way, it doesn’t matter. The point is that I was super affected by kneeling to the point where I thought I would vomit blood. Oh, the shame! Oh, the agony! I was just planning my revenge!”
Darius tried to feign a distressed face, and had there been true actors here, they would have surely clapped their hands. Unfortunately, his only spectator was not fooled.
“Bah! You can’t fool this old man, not again. I know what you can do, young man, and I will bring the best out of you. This will be a night you will never forget.”
“Ah, please don’t do this!” Darius pleaded with his back trapped against the wall.
The old man laughed; he wasn’t quite sure what Darius was so scared of, but he decided to clarify things later. Seeing Darius like this right now was too amusing. “I will do as I see fit. It must happen!”
“No, it doesn’t have to!”
“Do not do this! It’s not fit for your station!”
“I will do it.”
“It can’t happen!”
“It will happen!”
“Please don’t rape me!”
“Ha ha, I will ra-…” The old man paused. After noticing the oddly small distance between the two, his creepy demeanor, and that Darius was trembling with his back against the wall, the old man’s forehead broke into a cold sweat!