Chapter 61: Affinity

The three continue to eat breakfast in silence. Vahn was eating much slower than usual, while Lili had hardly touched her food. She just kept fidgeting in her seat while periodically eyeing the door as if trying to come to a decision. Tsubaki, who was the closest to the exit just gave her a ‘gentle’ smile while enjoying the meal.

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After the meal concluded, Tsubaki collected all the dishes and told Vahn and Lili to wait in the training area. Vahn nodded mechanically in response. Once Tsubaki had left the room, Lili got close to Vahn and urged him, “Vahn, we have to run! We can flee into the dungeon until the storm passes. It’s safer than staying here!” Lili seemed to be very fearful of Tsubaki, and Vahn wondered what had happened between them.

The previous night…

Two voices echo loudly, breaking the silence brought by the nights’ stillness.

One voice sounds like the laughter of an evil creature as it revels in the suffering of its ‘victim’.

The second voice cries into the night, hoping to find release from its torment

Passersby stare in horror towards the tall bamboo walls, urgently fleeing the horrifying sound

A boy sleeps contentedly in a nearby room…

(A/N: The Author is confused.)

Vahn ends up moving to the training area with Lili following behind while dragging her feet. So as not to get caught off guard, Vahn find an area where he can easily see the connecting corridors and begins performing light stretching exercises. After watching for a moment, Lili sighs and begins following the routine. She determines that escape is impossible, and believes Vahn’s precaution is the best course of action for the time being.

After ten minutes, Tsubaki shows up and nods after seeing the two seriously preparing. The dark aura from earlier has faded, and her carefree smile has returned. Vahn and Lili are elated to see she has ‘calmed’ down, but after hearing Tsubaki describes their next training, even Vahn wants to run away…

Tsubaki has Lili assume a horse stance atop small bamboo platforms with both arms spread to her side. In each hand and on top of her head, she has to balance small metal disks that hold several small cups of water. Her assignment is to transfer each cup from one disc to the other without spilling anything in the process. To make the process even more difficult, Tsubaki is asking her questions about various monsters and their ecology. If Lili fails to answer or takes too long, Tsubaki uses a brush to tickle the underside of her arms.

For Vahn’s training, Tsubaki has him stand in a strange formation of bamboo and ropes. Each bamboo is weighted on the inside and attached to a rope. The ropes are attached to a mechanism that slowly pulls the weighted bamboo to a specific height before releasing them towards the person inside. To increase the difficulty, Tsubaki has Vahn wear a blindfold while restraining both of his arms. She tells him to restrain his domain to the smallest possible size and places various rocks along the ground around his feet. He not only has to focus on evading the random attacks from the bamboo but has to avoid stepping on the jagged rocks with his bare feet…

For Vahn, the training was slightly ‘easier’ than expected, though he still suffered minor setbacks on occasion. He was quickly adapting to sensing the unseen attacks and had been able to evade more than 10 in a row. It was at this point his ears picked up on a subtle ‘clink’. After the strange sound, the bamboo seemed to increase in number and frequency causing Vahn to begin to sweat while desperately evading around the small area…

Tsubaki, who had just finished tormenting Lili, saw that Vahn was adapting much faster than she expected. She moved to an area connected to the training device and added a weight to the mechanical components driving the swinging mechanism. This made the gears that only increased tension periodically begin to spin faster. Of the total 10 stages, she had just increased the degree of difficulty to 2.

After what felt like an excruciatingly long hour, Vahn and Lili were finally allowed to cease their training. Lili ended up running towards the bathroom in a panic, while Vahn simply collapsed onto the floor. His body was covered in bruises, even with the healing component of his combined skills. Halfway through his training, just as he was beginning to adapt to the new speed, a second ‘clink’ was heard and he began to get hit much more often.

Tsubaki walked over to the collapsed Vahn and offered him a container of water. “You did well. At that level, you should be able to evade attacks from someone that just reached Level 2 without having to see the attack coming.” Vahn took the container and drank while she gave him the compliment. After finding out the mechanism had 10 stages, he wondered how strong he would be if he was able to master dodging them all.

After a short break, Tsubaki showed Vahn and Lili, who had returned somewhat pale from the bathroom, to her actual workshop. It was dim, like most forges, and had a variety of tools and materials neatly arranged on shelves. On the side of the workshop nearest to the door, there were several bookshelves that contained a host of different topics including herbology, monster ecology, material, blacksmithing, and even some lore related books regarding gods and legends.

“Every day, from now until 2 pm, you’ll both be within this workshop developing your knowledge and skills. Vahn will primarily focus on learning the fundamentals of blacksmithing, while I’ll have Lili act as an assistant when she isn’t researching the subjects I assign her. After 2 PM, you’ll be free for the remainder of the day. I may have closed my workshop to new customers, but there are still various contracts I have to uphold. Just make sure if you go to the dungeon you are able to return before 10 PM. From now on that will be the curfew for both of you.” Tsubaki had been carefully explaining things to them while arranging a stack of books on the table. When she got to her final words, she looked towards both of them and shouted. “Understood!?”

“Yes!” “Yes, Tsubaki-sama!” Vahn and Lili both responded loudly due to the tension. Tsubaki nodded and began teaching Vahn how to process materials while Lili was required to read the books that had been laid out.

As she had yet to see Vahn forge anything, Tsubaki had him refine a piece of normal iron. Vahn nodded before reaching towards the dark greyish-brown lump of metal. He sat down next to the forge and began trying to refine it, but quickly noticed it was much different compared to working with magisteel like his previous three attempts.

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The biggest difference was the quality of the ‘flame’ he was using. Since he had only ever forged anything using the ‘eternal flame’ which could easily melt ores, Vahn had never experienced working with a normal fire. The temperature seemed inconsistent within the furnace and he struggled to evenly heat the iron even after using his [Will of the Emperor].

Tsubaki, from the side, nodded while speaking in a low voice. “It seems you really are a novice. Even though iron is much easier to process, because it is somewhat inert compared to magisteel, it is far more difficult to refine using your current techniques. You need to learn the properties of different metals from the very beginning and how to shape them using normal forging methods.”

Vahn slowly nodded as he continued refining the iron. He had a lot of theoretical knowledge from the manuals he had obtained but was severely lacking in experience. Since the ‘eternal flame’ was much stronger than normal fires, even when it had resisted him it still had much higher efficacy than a normal flame.

Remembering the ‘eternal flame’, Vahns heart began to throb as if to respond to his thoughts. Noticing the phenomenon, Vahn began to listen to his heartbeat and felt the blood in his body begin to heat up considerably. His mind calmed and all the heat of the forge seemed to vanish in an instant.

As Vahn opened his eyes, he could feel a powerful energy radiating from his arm holding the hammer. He lifted the hammer and noticed that the magical circuit had become fully active and the crystalline sections of the hammer glowed with a warm, slightly golden, luminance. He smiled, basking in the calming glow and enjoying the feeling present in his blood

Tsubaki was shocked seeing the sight, and even with her high tolerance to the heat, she began to sweat slightly. The temperature from the hammer Vahn was holding was incredible. It was much hotter than the flame within the forge, and she remembered Hephaestus saying he had somehow subordinated the ‘eternal flame’. She removed the eyepatch from her left eye, and a scarlet glow began to emit from the red iris.

Vahn began to focus and started using his hammer to refine the iron. Each strike traced a red path through the air and imbued fire elemental energies into the iron. The metal began to heat up rapidly, and Vahn was able to have much greater control over the process. He continued until the ore had been refined to 80% and then quickly shaped the ingot. Due to the ‘burning’ properties in the hammer, he didn’t even have to put it back into the forge and was able to quickly mold it into the shape of an ingot.

After he was finished, he waited for Tsubaki’s input before doing anything else. Vahn turned towards her and saw that she was staring at him with both eyes instead of just one. Noticing he had finished the process, Tsubaki gave him a cheerful smile and reset her eyepatch. “Excellent Vahn! Really, you have an incredible talent for forging! Was that glowing in the hammer an effect of the ‘eternal flame’ that merged with your body?”

Vahn nodded, returning a smile due to the praise he had received. He began explaining the functions of the ‘eternal flame’ and how it allowed him to imbue fire elemental properties into all of his ‘attacks’. Since the hammer was also capable of channeling mana, it enhanced the effects even further and made it so that he could almost forge without even relying on a furnace. (A/N: This only applies to VERY low-grade items. The purpose of a furnace is to keep heat uniform and prevent it from escaping and dispersing throughout the room. If Vahn tried to forge an item from start to finish without using the proper tools it would waste the metal! Consistent temperatures lead to much higher quality products~! I’m not the best, but done machining/blacksmithing/metalworking before~)

After his success, Tsubaki started demonstrating how to work with different materials other than metal. There were various types of monster drops like bones, fangs, and talons. Each required their own unique process, and Vahn was able to quickly learn. Some of the manuals he had acquired from the shop related to forging within Danmachi, so he was able to match the practical methods to the theoretical ones within his mind. Tsubaki was surprised seeing how quickly he ‘learned’ and how well he ‘retained’ the information.

She continued mentoring him and watching him process each item with varying degrees of success. The most amazing thing was, even if he didn’t refine an item well, he didn’t make any mistakes that resulted in failure. At this rate, the only thing Vahn would need is time and he would become a great blacksmith. Tsubaki couldn’t wait to debut his items and brag about being the master of such a talented student.

From the side, Lili sat reading books and writing down as much information as she could about important factors to consider in the dungeon. Even though she had no experience with forging, she could understand after observing Tsubaki’s excitement that Vahn had incredible talent. If she wanted to keep up and stand at his side, she needed to do her best using her own strengths. For now, she would memorize all of these books and learn as much as she could to be of use in the future.

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘You call that a flame?’, ‘Two-eyed Cyclops’, ‘Eternal-Flame is Bae’, ‘Be still my right hand!’)

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